NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — A job training program on the Peninsula called “What’s Next?” held an open house on Monday in Newport News.

The 4-6 week program gives people the chance to train for a trade such as cybersecurity, culinary arts, etc. In the end, participants receive $1,000 and help with job placement. About 60 spots are filled twice a month, organizers say, and since the program was started by city officials last August, more than 260 people have enrolled.

“What’s Next” is free for residents to use, but the program they’re working with, FastForward through Thomas Nelson Community College, has costs. Some of which can be offset by grants and scholarships.

John Eley, who created “What’s Next” with Dr. Ashby Kilgore, says the need arose from residents in the Southeast area of the community who wanted job training opportunities.

“It’s been wonderful because we feel everyone should have opportunities to trade, skill, or a fair chance at life,” he said. “Being at the program, you hear all types of stories, all types of background. The citizens just want a fair chanc in life. The ‘What’s Next’ program gives them the ability to a fresh start within one to six months with that certification and job training.”

Eley says they’ve been able to help over 260 people with the program.

“This program has changed lives. One of the citizens was incarcerated with a prior felony. He took advantage of the CDL program. He called me and said thank you so much. This changed my life. I wanted a fair chance at life. I was trying job after job. He said I have a job now. I have my CDL. I’m not a truck driving owner that can support me and my family as well,” he said.

The program is also helping industries in the area that are in need of filling vacancies.

Dr. Ashby Kilgore says community colleges, which were impacted by the pandemic because in-person instruction had been halted, will hopefully take advantage of these types of programs they offer.

“One of the roadblocks of the pandemic is these high skilled programs couldn’t take place because you had to be there in person to weld or learn nursing. This is an opportunity to grow their enrollment and impact the community like they were able to do prior to the pandemic,” she said.

Kilgore, who is on the Virginia State Board of Community Colleges, says the program will eventually expand to other services such as wealth building, financial coaching, and life coaching.

Right now, they’re focusing on helping residents navigate through the FastForward program.

“The purpose is to be a face and a name and a person that the student or applicant can contact when they run into roadblocks. That’s the purpose of our program, not to replace what they do at Thomas Nelson, but navigate people through the application process and the school process,” she said.

Eley also believes that the program will help to continue to transform the community.

Although it is geared for Newport News residents, he says they’ve gotten people from as far away as Virginia Beach.

“Programs like this transform the community because you give them opportunities, opportunities with healthcare, and the ability to start over in life. Your annual income might go from $26,000 a year to $46,$48-$50,000. By giving people direct job training and workforce development, it helps make a better community. When you have a community with better high-paying jobs, it makes for a safer community,” he said.

‘What’s Next’ meets every other Monday at the Offices 25& J.

To contact the program, call (757)469-5646.