HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — The What’s Next for Success Foundation hopes to remove barriers.

The grant-funded program partners with Virginia Peninsula Community College to offer free trade classes.

“We do not know what next year will look like as far as funding,” said John Eley III, a What’s Next organizer and Newport News city councilman. “We are encouraging people to take advantage of this opportunity. We have had so many people not just in Newport News, Hampton or the Southside take advantage of this program. It is changing lives.”

Eley was enlisted to help organize the program by former Newport News Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Ashby Kilgore, a current board member for the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education.

“[Dr. Kilgore] said John, ‘we have to do something. There is a lot of funding out here that will help people get industry certifications quickly,'” Eley said. “The programs are four to eight weeks. Cybersecurity, phlebotomy, welding, our partners make sure that we give people the best opportunity to set them up for success.”

From 5 to 7 p.m. on Monday, July 31, the What’s Next program hosted a sign-up event for the first time in Hampton. Kilgore pushed to expand the program to Hampton in honor of her late mom, the former mayor of Hampton and the first woman elected to the Hampton City Council, Ann Kilgore

“It is an opportunity for them to enhance their skills and that they can be more competitive here in the job market,” said Hampton City Councilmember Hope Harper. “Things are not cheap these days, with housing, transportation, buying a car. If you can do anything to bring your salary up 35%, why not? Take a chance on yourself.”

Harper believes the job training can also help people stay out of trouble.

“When they know that they are doing something productive to occupy their time, they are less likely to engage in criminal activity,” she said.

Eley said convicted felons also benefit from taking the classes.

“It feels so good to see so many people, especially from my community, where the odds were against them, being able to find a good and decent job,” Eley said. 

Courtney Talton completed the phlebotomy program in 2022. Talton is now a certified phlebotomist. The classes took about two months.  The program paid for the practice tests, and she received a voucher to pay for the certification exam.

“My experience was great,” Talton said. “They give you everything you need. At the end of the program, once you complete your course and you get your certificate, you also get $1,000.”

If a trade is not offered at Virginia Peninsula Community College, the Hampton Roads Workforce Council may help find placement.

“Any trade that you want to do, we will find,” Eley said. “Whatever you are interested in, our partners with Workforce Council will set you up … to get into the trade you want to do.”

He hopes the program will continue with job placement opportunities.