Shannon Carroll is president and CEO of the Providence-based Genesis Center.
Posted: Friday, November 6, 2015 4:51 am
Shannon Carroll is president and CEO of the Providence-based Genesis Center, a post she has held for a little more than a year after serving as vice president of programs and then senior vice president of operations. The nonprofit provides education, job training and support services to immigrants, refugees and low-income families to help them achieve economic independence. Here, Carroll discusses how the nonprofit fulfills its mission.
PBN: Of the educational, job training and support services the center offers, which generate the most demand and how are you meeting it?
CARROLL: Our primary programs are ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), job training in the fields of health care and culinary arts, early childhood education, citizenship preparation, high school credentialing and wrap-around support services, including case management, job counseling and financial coaching.
We have waiting lists for almost all of our programs, but ESOL, with over 200 individuals at any given time, sees the most demand. To address this, we have expanded our evening program, implemented a distance-learning platform, and have been reaching out to local schools to offer onsite ESOL classes to parents of their students.
An important aspect of our program design is our interconnectivity, which also helps us address the multiple needs of our learners and meet demand in an efficient manner. For example, job readiness, computer instruction and financial literacy are embedded in all of our ESOL classes, from “absolute beginner” to transitions to college and careers. Learners can acquire the critical skills to succeed in today’s economy while building English proficiency. They can also transition from ESOL to one of our job training programs once their English improves. In addition, we have onsite childcare so parents and children can learn together in one building.
PBN: The Rhode Island Foundation just awarded the center a $47,265 grant that will help expand employment counseling services and establish a hybrid e-learning resource for unemployed and underemployed adult learners. Tells us about this e-learning resource.
CARROLL: We needed to expand our job counseling services to reach our highly motivated evening ESOL learners, who usually are attending classes after work so they can improve their English to get better jobs. With more intensive job counseling services, these learners can fine-tune their goals and get the necessary support to start on a career pathway.
The hybrid e-learning platform we are developing offers individualized curriculum options to augment classroom learning. Participants take an assessment that identifies competencies that need to be developed, and an online learning plan is developed to meet their specific learning needs. A classroom facilitator is assigned to guide each student and offer assistance, but much of the work can be completed at home to intensify and accelerate learning gains.
As the program takes off, we are confident that we will be able to serve more students in a more efficient way and, as a result, amplify our impact on the community by creating a more educated community that is prepared to meet the demands of today’s workforce. We are so appreciative of the support that the Rhode Island Foundation has provided us over the years.
PBN: What percentage of your clients are immigrants and what unique services do they require?
CARROLL: Approximately 75 percent to 80 percent of our clients are immigrants; the others are individuals who were born and raised in the U.S. and want to develop employment skills or get their high school diploma.
Last year, we convened a series of focus groups, and the overwhelming feedback was that the Genesis Center creates a welcoming environment for its learners. So, whether someone is an immigrant or not, we want everyone to feel that they are in a comfortable and safe environment that will promote learning and build confidence to attain their goals.
While we have nearly 40 countries represented in our student body and we embrace that diversity, the fact that someone is an “immigrant” is tangential to the services they receive that are always client-centered, outcomes-focused and mission-driven. Before I moved into administration, I was an ESOL teacher for adult learners, and I found that when students are engaged and relaxed, they learn better. That is the culture I still try to foster as I lead the center.
Having said this, there are pragmatic concerns when serving a large foreign-born population that covers a broad spectrum from new immigrants and refugees to immigrants who have been in the U.S. for many years. Wrap-around support services help students manage a myriad of issues, such as childcare, transportation, access to medical care, etc., that could hinder their progress.
Furthermore, our teachers need to be flexible, as a one-size-fits-all curriculum will not work. Many times an ESOL class may have a college graduate sitting next to a person who didn’t complete elementary school in his or her own country. That requires some savvy lesson planning, and our teachers are trained to adapt their materials and instruction to meet this range of learning abilities.
Our staff recognizes that our clients, while they may lack English proficiency, are highly motivated individuals who are seeking the skills to create better lives for themselves and their families. The research we did last year confirmed this and led us to create our new tagline, “Genesis Center: where the will to achieve meets the skill to succeed.” We aim to provide the tools to our learners and families to realize their goals.
PBN: The center serves more than 650 people a year in adult education and workforce development. Is this number growing and, if so, what other funding sources are you developing to help provide services?
CARROLL: It is growing, but we are limited by the space available in our facility and adult education funding, which has decreased in recent years. We hope that our partnerships with local schools, employers and our distance learning program will allow us to continue serving more participants.
We were very happy to receive a Governor’s Workforce Board Innovation grant this year that, in partnership with CharterCARE Health Partners and the city of Providence, has allowed us to develop a series of workforce trainings specifically tailored to CharterCARE. This type of partnership is what we and other education providers in the state need to be doing – providing contextualized training that builds basic literacy skills while simultaneously putting people on a career pathway.
It’s not simply about getting jobs anymore; people need opportunities to build careers that will promote family economic stability. We are confident that as more funders see the great results we’re getting, they’ll be more likely to invest in our programs. In fact, we saw the center’s highest job placement rate ever, 163 jobs in the 2014-15 program year.
PBN: As the leader of the center, what is your long-term vision for growth?
CARROLL: If we want to secure the resources to grow, we must promote awareness of our programs and our results.
A visitor to the center recently called us a “hidden gem,” and I think it’s time we no longer fly under the radar. I hope to get more exposure so we can attract more investment in our programs, which is really an investment in all of Rhode Island. The majority of our students come to Genesis to get a job, get a better job or build a career. To do that to the best of our ability, one of the critical pieces is to get employers on board.
I want employers to recognize the hugely valuable resource available to them through adult education providers, and to get to a place where we can work directly with employers to develop and implement programs that meet their hiring needs. We have eager future employees ready to train – and we can provide tailor-made, contextualized, high-quality trainings at a low cost. It’s a win for our learners and the employers.
We are also working to develop closer ties with higher education to provide seamless transitions to college credit-bearing classes so our students can acquire the necessary credentials to continue on their career pathways. I believe that a consolidated effort among community-based training providers, employers and higher education institutions can create a more workable world for all Rhode Islanders.