Salih Wafa served eight years in the Afghan military. But when he came to Virginia in 2019 as a refugee with few English skills, landing a job with a future was a challenge.
He found work driving a bus for Charlottesville while he started information technology classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College. But now, with an associate’s degree in hand and with help from a University of Virginia program, he’s secured a job at the University as a full-time classroom support technician, with benefits.
“I feel like I came out of darkness to a very bright place,” said Wafa, who said he knew no one in this country when he first came here. “I think I am lucky to know these people. Miss Hollie told me that UVA was a great work environment and it is a place to grow. I am getting a lot of experience and learning new things every day.”
“Miss Hollie” is Hollie Lee, the manager of a new program called “Pipelines & Pathways” at UVA. Although the program had a soft launch in January and is working with 140 participants, UVA President Jim Ryan will officially launch the program Monday with a grand opening at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center from 1 to 5 p.m.
Ryan and John Kosky, vice president and chief human resources officer for UVA, will deliver remarks, followed by a ribbon-cutting with the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. Attendees also will be able to participate in workshops on the art of self-promotion in a competitive world and building a professional image. They can also attend career coaching sessions and a UVA job fair that will be held throughout the day.
“Pipelines & Pathways is already opening doors for members of the community for meaningful career opportunities at UVA,” Kosky said. “Overall, we feel this is a win-win situation for everyone involved: positions are filled, clients find meaningful employment with a career path, relationships are forged and our entire community benefits.”
The program addresses barriers applicants may face – including transportation issues, finding child care, securing housing and overcoming criminal history – and connects them to community resources that may offer assistance. Pipelines & Pathways also provides job skills training, including résumé writing, mock interviewing, basic computer skills, workplace readiness and financial literacy.
The program assesses an applicant’s skill levels and interests while assisting with obtaining full-time, part-time, temporary and wage employment in the University’s Academic Division, University Medical Center, University of Virginia Physicians Group and other University-associated organizations.
Pipelines & Pathways also will announce at the event a new training program, HOOS Driving, which provides paid training for people who want become bus drivers for University Transit Service and Charlottesville Area Transit.
RaeJon Curry had a commercial driving license and had been driving a dump truck for the city of Charlottesville and making ice cream deliveries in a box truck, but found his employment opportunities limited by a minor brush with the law long ago.
“The program helped me tremendously,” he said. “I probably would not have thought about driving a bus if I had not gone to a job fair and met Hollie Lee.”
He attended a job fair sponsored by the Pipelines & Pathways to learn about employment possibilities at UVA. The Pipelines & Pathways program assisted Curry with obtaining required endorsements to drive a passenger bus. He said Lee spoke to University Transit Service hiring officials on his behalf. He is now a driver for UTS.
“I’m so thankful to be a full-time employee with the UVA,” Curry said. “I love driving the bus and I look forward to going to work every day and helping the community. UVA Pipelines & Pathways has changed my life. I’m able to provide for my family and take care my responsibilities.”
After hiring, Pipelines & Pathways stays in the picture, assisting with career advancement planning. After the first six months, career coaches are available to work one-on-one with participants, identifying continuing education and conducting career reviews.
“The work of the Pipelines & Pathways team is transformational,” Kosky said. “They are identifying and tackling difficult barriers while learning every step of the journey to better serve each client.”