When I first began at Mid-Maine Regional Adult Community Education in 2010, my idea of adult education was probably that of most — It’s a place to earn your GED or a place to make baskets. And while I was not wrong, I definitely was not right.

The last six years at the organization in Waterville have changed my life — literally. I changed my career plan and earned my master’s degree so I could further my career in adult education. In July 2015, when I was able to accept the director of community and adult education position, it was all worth it. I truly believe that I could find a class for just about anyone in the communities we serve. Adult education offers something for everyone. We are essential to every thriving community.

A new federal law, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, went into effect in July 2014 and has tweaked the way adult education programs all over the nation operate. A primary purpose of the act is to “increase for individuals, particularly those individuals with barriers to employment, access to, and opportunities for the employment, education, training, and support services they need to succeed in the labor market.” It also encourages alignment of the workforce, economic development, and educational systems to provide comprehensive, coordinated services that reflect the needs of the 21st-century economy. The overarching effects of the act are not yet clear, but while some negative impacts may exist nationally, we are seeing very positive effects on the local level.

My organization has participated in the type of cross-agency partnerships that are encouraged by the act to prepare adults in our communities to engage in the workforce. We have partnered with Mount St. Joseph’s, Lakewood Continuing Care, and MaineGeneral within the past year to offer Ready2Work CNA or medical assistant training programs, and we were able to offer the trainings at no cost to eligible participants.

An unexpected but important outcome of the collaboration between the Augusta CareerCenter and my organziation occurred during the reading and math assessment process to determine participants’ academic skills level. Interested participants who did not meet the academic threshold to enter the program were immediately referred to meet with my organization, which could enroll them in refresher classes to prepare them academically for the next training opportunity. The opportunity led to us creating multiple entry points for people.

Recently, we partnered with MaineGeneral and the Maine Department of Labor to offer a medical assistant training in a format similar to the CNA program. The jointly sponsored orientation meeting in September attracted 200 people. The turnout demonstrated the need for such partnerships and programs. It has been my experience that the new federal law is not leaving anyone behind, but rather providing stronger career pathways for people in our community who need assistance. Adult education and workforce partners are also working together to create more efficient and focused ways to meet the needs of our students with the funding we have.

We never stop seeking out opportunities to further advance opportunities that meet the needs of the community. We were awarded a $7,000 grant through the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to offer 12 four-week modules in basic career and life skills. The modules have been designed to improve student retention rates by helping them learn to deal with life circumstances that prevent them from accomplishing their educational and career goals.

Our mission is to provide services that meet the needs of the community. Our goal is to assist area adults in acquiring the skills necessary to be healthy, happy and contributing members of the community.

To meet this goal, we offer adult basic education (ABE), HiSET (formerly GED), adult high school diploma, English as a Second Language (ESL), and college transitions programming at no cost for adults requiring such services. Participants in any of the above programs are also eligible to receive career and college advising at no cost. These programs are supported by a combination of federal and state grants and local funds.

We also provide an extensive enrichment program that is funded through self-supporting registration fees. Classes range from rug-hooking to worm composting, hot yoga to a Greek cooking class. In addition, a variety of workforce preparation and technology classes are offered.

I have yet to meet anyone who didn’t find something of interest in our biannual brochure. That’s the thing I love most about adult education — there’s something for everyone.

Hannah Bard is director of Mid-Maine Regional Adult Community Education in Waterville.

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