It’s Never Too Late

I want to thank Tustin Unified School District, who has partnered with Orange County Rescue Mission’s Sunwest Bank Success Center. Tustin Unified believes it is never too late to get a high school diploma, and so do we. All residents, regardless of age, are required to complete their high school diploma, in order to be better prepared for employment.

Earlier in June, 21 students from three of our Rescue Mission campuses were honored and celebrated as they participated in a graduation ceremony to recognize the completion of their High School Diploma Program, with a total of 28 Rescue Mission residents who have completed their high school education this last year.

We want to especially thank from Tustin Unified: Lynn Davis, President,  Dr. Gregory Franklin, Superintendent, Dr. Dustin O’Malley, Assistant Principal, Virginia Burrows, Adult Education Coordinator and Teresa Wagenseller, an especially helpful teacher at Tustin Adult School.

Read the article below to learn more about this great partnership, and the Orange County Rescue Mission students that are so grateful for this opportunity.

Village of Hope residents graduate

Graduate Christian Piccuito, top, from the Village of Hope at the Orange County Rescue Mission gets a hug after receiving his diploma from the Tustin Adult School on Tuesday. ///ADDITIONAL INFO: 0616.homelessghsgraduation - 6/7/16 - Photo by PAUL RODRIGUEZ - Twenty-six adults from Orange County Rescue Mission's Village of Hope graduate with their high school diploma from Tustin Adult School on Tuesday.

Graduate Christian Piccuito, from the Village of Hope at the Orange County Rescue Mission gets a hug after receiving his diploma from the Tustin Adult School on Tuesday. – 6/7/16 – Photo by PAUL RODRIGUEZ

Only one of the high school graduates walking across stage was the typical age of 18. From there, the numbers steeply climbed – all the way up to 53 – coincidentally, shared by three. As years on Earth increased, so too, it seemed, did pride. “It is a hyperemotional experience for the older adults,” said Jim Palmer, president of the Tustin-based Orange County Rescue Mission. “They’d given up on the idea of a high school diploma a long time ago. This gives them new hope – a second chance at life.”

Twenty-eight residents of the mission’s Village of Hope homeless shelter officially completed their high school studies June 7 via the Tustin Unified School District’s adult education program.

Along with about 50 other soon-to-be alumni, they filed into the Tustin High gymnasium outfitted in caps and gowns. Then, one by one, they approached the podium to accept that vaunted piece of paper, a diploma, as families and friends whooped from the bleachers.

An actual, tangible diploma makes all the difference, Palmer said. “In the past, we had a GED program, but we found that our grads were not feeling as competitive in the job market,” he said. “It seems employers look at a GED differently than a diploma.” So Palmer approached TUSD Superintendent Gregory Franklin with the idea of folding Village of Hope students into the district’s adult program.

“Statistics show the more education you have, the better your children’s success academically – children who are in Tustin Unified schools,” Franklin said. “It’s a win-win for everybody. We are doing something to break the cycle of poverty.” This marks the mission’s third year of partnering with TUSD. Adults who come to the 210-bed shelter – often with addiction, abuse and mental health problems – must immediately enroll in the high school program if they don’t already have a diploma or GED.

“Part of the therapy here is just jumping in,” Palmer said. “Without a high school diploma, their opportunities for economic success are practically zero.” Time required to achieve a degree depends on how many units an individual earned before leaving high school. For some, it’s only a few months; for others, a year and a half. Students work independently with help from tutors.

The Village of Hope in Tustin is the mission’s largest shelter of its 11 Southern California locations. Palmer hopes to bring other school districts on board for similar programs.

Contact the writer: sgoulding@ocregister.com

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