Back on the Road to Independence
Runako Robi has the day off. It might be the last Friday she will have free for a while.
“I’m on the welfare-to-work plan right now,” she says. “But I’ll be out of it in a minute.”
Sitting in Goodwill’s Bank of America room – proudly wearing her SF Giants jersey and an infectious smile – Runako is sharing her big news. She’s starting as a Safeway Delivery driver next week. For Runako, though, it’s merely the next logical – and inevitable – step in the journey she committed herself to.
While SF Goodwill’s job training resources offer a comprehensive set of tools to reach economic self-sufficiency, the catalyst for change and the most important ingredient to personal transformation is desire and commitment. For Runako, her desire has paid serious dividends.
A year ago, Runako was simply looking for a job. She needed to support her family, and she wanted to get off welfare, and move into her own home. Seeking help at San Francisco’s Human Services Agency, she was referred her to Goodwill.
“I said, ‘Goodwill? Where they sell clothes?’” Runako recollected with a laugh. Starting at Goodwill’s Career Center, it wasn’t long before Runako was familiar with Goodwill services. The one program that caught her eye was the Bayview Hope Transportation Academy (BHTA).
The BHTA was started in 2004 as a partnership with local community organizations in the Bayview Hunters-Point neighborhood to provide essential job training and opportunities in one of San Francisco’s most underserved neighborhoods. A 6-week program, the BHTA provides students all of the training and certification necessary to pursue a career in trucking or passenger driving – from classroom work to behind-the-wheel training. Since its inception, 369 participants have graduated from the Academy, and last year, 79% of graduates found employment as a truck or bus driver.
It was the perfect opportunity for Runako .
“I had to figure out what I wanted to do and I learned that I wanted to drive,” she said. “I wanted to drive a bus for MUNI. I like driving…just give me the keys, and I’ll get you there safely.”
One of the prerequisites to being accepted into the BHTA is to complete SF Goodwill’s Job Readiness Training Program (JRT) which is designed to prepare participants for finding and keeping employment.
“I had a resume, but I didn’t have ‘A Resume.’” I learned how to write one, how to go after the job you’re trying to get. I even have a portfolio now…I also learned how to prepare for an interview and how to get dressed for it,” Runako said. Once she completed JRT, she formally moved into the BHTA and found she was a natural behind the wheel. In fact, she found herself quickly helping out newer BHTA students.
“Everyone treated me the same [in BHTA] – I helped some of the men. Some of them got licenses because of me… I often got treated like a little instructor,” she said. Within 30 days of her acceptance into BHTA, Runako passed her DMV test and was certified as a bus driver.
The next test of her commitment was to sell the driving skills she had attained in the BHTA to an employer. Working with Goodwill’s Employer Engagement Department – which works with a local network of nearly 200 local employers interesting in hiring Goodwill participants – she was able to secure interviews. Those interviews provided three job offers: as a Safeway delivery driver, with Bauer’s trucking, and a job with America’s Cup.
“To get the America’s Cup job, I put a dress on, got my hair together, printed out three resumes and I came to Goodwill to get an interview. I walked out of that interview with a job because I was ready.”
Runako accepted the part-time America’s Cup job and then the benefitted position with Safeway. The impact of these jobs has been tremendous.
“Now, my daughter and I don’t have to live in subsidized housing – I can pick where I want to go. Now they can give it to someone else who needs it. I can pay rent now and send my daughter to ballet class.”
Runako has met nearly all of the goals she set for herself a year ago. Although Goodwill provided the pathway away from poverty, it’s been Runako’s ambition and goals which drove her personal transformation along it.
“Runako took all she learned in Job Readiness Training and is making it all work for her,” said Goodwill career advisor Mark Bouthiller. “I am proud that she is her dream and I am happy that Goodwill funds this type of program because of success stories like hers.”
As Runako begins her new jobs – and moving away from public assistance – she offered the following advice for anyone coming to Goodwill for the first time:
“If people are ready to learn here, they just need to come in every day. If a person wants it, they have to get up and get it – it’s there. It’s called Goodwill for a reason…When people at Goodwill say, ‘We are one, we are a family,’ well, – I believe that.”