Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Grossmont College's OPT program nets $108,000 AARP Foundation grant

Grossmont College Business Technology instructor Mark
Pressnall helps students Jamie Brown and Dana Schneider.
The Office Professional Training (OPT) program at Grossmont College has received an AARP Foundation grant of nearly $108,000 to help unemployed women 50 and older obtain high-demand jobs.

The BACK TO WORK 50+ initiative was launched as a pilot program in 2013 in Denver, Colo., and AARP Foundation expanded the program in January with a new partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges. A dozen colleges and college districts across the nation were selected as the first to participate in the expanded program, with the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District as the only one in California. Three more colleges will join the network later this year.

With support from the Walmart Foundation, AARP Foundation has committed $2 million to BACK TO WORK50+ which has so far provided 2,000 people with resources and information to find good jobs in their communities.

The OPT program at Grossmont College has a 28-year history of training adults of all ages for careers in accounting, banking and financial services, insurance and office administrative support as well as providing personal counseling, crisis help and job placement assistance to thousands of people, including older women targeted for assistance by AARP Foundation.

“We are grateful for AARP Foundation’s support to help the women of OPT – many of whom are older workers displaced by the recession -- get back on their feet,” said John Valencia, the district’s associate vice chancellor of Advancement and Communications and CEO of the Foundation for Grossmont &Cuyamaca Colleges. 

Mary Leslie, lead instructor for OPT, said the two-year grant will provide $50,000 to the program to help with staffing and operational costs and the balance will go toward stipends of up to $1,800 to cover tuition costs, books and supplies for 32 students.

“This is a huge help to the program, which has operating costs of more than $250,000 a year,” Leslie said. She said that with the gradual dwindling of government funding, OPT is now almost entirely reliant on private donations, industry support and fundraising efforts.

“The district covers the instructional portion of the program, but we have to raise the money ourselves for the remaining costs, such as counseling, job placement, textbooks, tuition, and fees,” she said.

Leslie said AARP Foundation’s BACK TO WORK50+ program is ideal for OPT, which has a job-placement rate of 75 percent. The average starting wage for graduates is $12 an hour.

“We have always trained people in this particular age group, as well as unemployed individuals of all ages, so it is a very good fit,” Leslie said, explaining that although open to men and women young and old, nearly 90 percent of the OPT students are women over 30.

Among the women 50 and older benefitting from AARP Foundation’s grant are those currently enrolled in OPT’s accounting classes:

Dana Schneider, a 50-year-old College Area resident, said OPT has provided an opportunity for her to update her work skills. She had worked for 14 years in Lodi handling accounts receivable for a trucking company, and she and her husband moved to San Diego after he got a job transfer. Schneider began looking for work, but found she didn’t have the technical skills that employers are looking for in today’s digital world.

“I became very frustrated and depressed – I had never been out of work before,” she said.

After spotting a newspaper ad for OPT, she decided to set aside doubts about returning to school and began taking OPT classes specializing in accounting. Students attend classes nearly 40 hours a week to complete the intensive, 18-unit program in a single semester.

“June 6 is graduation day and it’s also my 27th anniversary – it will be a very special day,” Schneider said.

Jamie Brown, a 53-year-old El Cajon resident, hopes that the accounting classes she’s taking through OPT will lead to an office job at a construction company, an environment she’s comfortable in after working for 11 years as a heavy-equipment operator. A layoff forced her into the job market, with the somber realization that she lacked the skills needed in the higher-demand jobs.

As the mother of a 14-year-old, Brown said she spends many evening at home sitting at the dining room table, doing homework right along with her daughter.

 “I would absolutely recommend OPT,” she said. “It’s a good foundation if you’re like me and need to brush up on office skills and get the certification needed to back you up when you’re out there interviewing for jobs. It’s about making yourself as marketable as possible.”

For more information about the OPT program at Grossmont College, call (619) 644-7533, email or go to and to join BACK TO WORK 50+ at Grossmont College call 1-855-850-2525.