CMC Cormer: Building connections makes us all stronger

Jill Ziemann
CMC Corner
Jill Ziemann

The connection between higher education and the community is stronger when people on both sides work to build relationships and resources so that each one thrives. As director of several sponsored programs at Colorado Mountain College, I am extremely grateful to work alongside many community partners in this way.

I am director of CMC’s Go2Work programs, which include Wo/Men in Transition (for parents returning to college), Gateway (for parents on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), free Go2Workshops and computer job skills workshops, and GarCo Sewing Works, an industrial sewing training program in collaboration with the Garfield County Department of Human Services. These programs are sustainable because of community partnerships, especially with the Board of County Commissioners, Human Services Commission and local workforce centers.

Students in these programs can be ready for work or education only if they have what I call the “Trifecta of Success” — housing, child care and transportation. In our rural resort areas all three necessities are expensive, and their lack can create barriers for students. A student parent has to work and take classes; if they can’t make rent or they need snow tires to get their children and themselves to school safely, they are less likely to complete their courses. I am alarmed at the times when something as small as needing windshield wipers can impact students’ learning. In communities as caring as ours, finding the resources to quickly support students is as easy as knowing the right person to ask.

It helps our students that I work with nonprofits such as Alpine Legal Services, the Advocate Safehouse Project, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, LIFT-UP, and other food banks and thrift shops. And I’ve developed relationships with businesses, foundations and private individuals to support students in emergencies and for essential needs.

Colorado Mountain College can help make these connections, too. We recently hosted Rural Philanthropy Days, which brings funders from urban areas to rural communities to identify local needs and meet organizations and nonprofits that need access to revenue.

CMC also plays a huge role in addressing the needs of our local workforce, employers and immigrant population. Our local schools are serving increasing numbers of Latino/Hispanic students, and our college’s vision and strategic plan embrace inclusivity to support our communities’ economic vitality and quality.

When the recession hit in 2008, the workforce regional director asked us if we could expand the Gateway program to every displaced worker. Gateway had offered classes on campus for parents on TANF, focused on job coaching, life coaching and basic computer skills. We obtained state and local grants to develop free, drop-in Go2Workshops for anyone to get help with resumes, interviews, job searches and online job applications. With CMC’s support and local partners we’ve maintained these workshops, helping over 1,000 community members.

We’ve encouraged all workshop participants to register online with their local workforce center, so that they can access information about careers and financial aid. We learned that lack of computer literacy was one of the greatest barriers to increased income, job advancement and education. Expanding partnerships, we received additional funding to offer free computer job skills workshops.

Our communities are small towns with small-town values. When we reach out to help a student, it reflects into the entire community. For instance, several years ago the CMC Foundation started a “No Barriers” fund. Any student may apply for a small amount of assistance for an emergency or short-term need. These students often pay back or forward the support by becoming more involved in campus activities and their classwork — making our communities even stronger.

Jill Ziemann is the director of Go2Work programs at Colorado Mountain College. Dr. A. Yvette Myrick, the college’s dean of developmental education and adult education, also contributed to this column.

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