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Graduates of Norwalk Program Hope for Work

NORWALK, Conn. – Erric Williams used to be a machine operator. Now he'll be very happy to take a part-time job with the Norwalk Parking Authority.

Williams is expecting that job because he has been enrolled in Hope Works, a program of the Norwalk Open Door Shelter. The 60-year-old was one of seven shelter residents to graduate from the new job training program Friday at Calvary Baptist Church. "I am personally indebted to this program," said Williams, holding up his certificate. Like others, he thanked Denisse Guzman, manager of career services, for the help he received.

Williams did whatever work he could do for the city of Norwalk during the program. Later, as an intern with the parking authority, he cleaned parking lots or did maintenance. Jacob Beach earned money through the program as an intern at the Norwalk Public Library. Both he and Williams got lessons in basic computer skills and how to behave in the workplace.

"It feels good to get up and go to work, it really does," said Patrick Brown, adding that he was proud of himself and his classmates.

Bill Okwuosa , director of the shelter, urged those attending the ceremony to give the graduates jobs to help him "change the face of homelessness" and prove that hope works.

Jonathan Matthews , class speaker, said people have the wrong ideas about the homeless, including the idea that all homeless people are "incredibly dirty, smelly and sleep on the sidewalk." He said he and his classmates had always worked for a living and supported themselves.

"It is not about the shelter giving us anything, it is not about you giving us anything," he said. "All of us have earned our own way. We have done it before and I know we can do it again."

Williams said he had worked for Beiersdorf, the skincare company, before it closed its Norwalk plant. When he was laid off, he became homeless. He was told that he will have a part-time job with the parking authority. "That's my goal," he said. "I've got to get a roof over my head. I mean, living at the shelter is something you have to do for a while, but it isn't something that you want to do."

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