H.O.P.E. graduates, mentors, supporters and hospital leaders gathered at the Saint Raphael Campus to celebrate the work-readiness program's 20th anniversary Nov. 3. Lorraine Adams, lead scheduler-registrar, Diagnostic Radiology (at right), was among the graduates who shared stories of success. Doe Haywood, H.O.P.E. coordinator, talked about the history, growth and scope of the program.

Twenty-year-old work readiness program leaves legacy of H.O.P.E.

Hazel Strain was a single parent of three children, on welfare and living in a one-bedroom apartment. Ayesha Branham was living with her son in a shelter, trying to move on from a criminal background, but working dead-end jobs.

They were among four graduates of Yale New Haven Hospital's Having an Opportunity to Prepare for Employment (H.O.P.E.) Program who spoke at the program's 20th anniversary celebration Nov. 3. All the graduates' stories were a little different, but the same theme ran throughout.

"I learned self-esteem," said Strain, who has worked in Food and Nutrition at the hospital for 20 years. "I learned to love myself, because I am somebody."

She spoke proudly of her three children, who have, or are pursuing, successful careers. "It all started here," Strain said. "As you can see, the program has a ripple effect."

The H.O.P.E. graduates who packed the Cronin Auditorium at the Saint Raphael Campus were joined by program mentors, supporters and hospital leaders. Sylvia Cooper, who came up with the idea for the program, got a rousing round of applause.

Noting that "a job is more than a vocation," Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, guest speaker, praised the H.O.P.E. Program for providing training in life skills as well as work skills. In addition to receiving training, education and counseling, participants become hospital volunteers and are matched with hospital mentors to gain workplace experience. Of the more than 400 H.O.P.E. graduates from throughout Greater New Haven, 71 percent have found stable employment. "This is an innovative job skills training program that sets a standard th at other programs should be able to follow," DeLauro said.

"H.O.P.E. is a volunteer program that provides a very different level of healing," said Lynelle Abel, director of Volunteer and Guest Services. "By providing individualized training and volunteer placements, the program helps participants regain confidence and build a work record. We look at this as a holistic approach to healing our community."

"This is more than a job readiness program," agreed Branham, who now has stable housing and a good job with Yale University. "I learned things about myself I never knew. Like, I like me. This program gave me hope."