Friday, June 24, 2011

Daytona State’s Fresh Start program polishes Diamond in the rough

It’s never too late to follow your passions.

Toni Diamond
So says 64-year-old Toni Diamond, and she should know. For years, Diamond lacked the self-confidence necessary to go to college and learn a skill. Coming from a life of domestic abuse, divorce and broken relationships, she suffered years of turmoil, depression and anxiety.
“I’ve had to deal with a lot, but a lot of it was my own doing,” she said. “I didn’t realize I had been sabotaging my own success because I didn’t feel good about myself over things that happened a long time ago, things that really shouldn’t matter today.”
Diamond’s epiphany came from her participation in Daytona State College’s Fresh Start program, which was recommended to her by a neighbor who also went through the free program. That first step, she said, has made a tremendous difference in her life. “It’s given me focus,” she said. “It’s helped me to stop getting in my own way. It’s helped me discover my purpose in life.”
Fresh Start is designed for women 35 and older who are in transition due to divorce, separation, death of a spouse, or caring for a disabled spouse. The class provides a supportive environment that helps students overcome obstacles to going back to work, including low self-esteem and fears about working outside the home.
While most women Diamond’s age are looking forward to retirement, she realizes she is among a growing number of men and women nationwide who must continue to work  at least part-time well into their retirement years. She had worked most of her adult life at low-skill, low-paying jobs, that is, until she was laid off in the spring of 2010 and quickly realized that she was essentially unemployable.
Through Fresh Start, Diamond learned how to prepare for a new beginning. The program teaches confidence building and stress management, personal awareness and coping skills, how to establish goals, explore career interests and investigate educational opportunities. Participants also learn how to write successful resumes, learn job search tools and improve their interview skills. 
After completing the program, Diamond enrolled in Daytona State’s Associate of Science in Human Services program and became a volunteer with the Domestic Abuse Council, where she serves as a victim’s advocate. She’s paying tuition with Pell grants and scholarships available to eligible Fresh Start participants and expects to earn her degree in May next year.
“Like many of our clients, Fresh Start helped Toni to honestly evaluate her situation and take steps to move forward,” said Nancy DeStefano, the program’s coordinator on the Daytona Beach Campus. “Today, Toni is an inspiration to others who may feel that they have waited too long to go back to school and get their education.”
Diamond herself is inspired by the way her life seems to have fallen into place since her Fresh Start experience.
“My goal is to work with other women,” she said. “It’s important to understand that you can recover and go on to live a happy life. Having had the experiences, I think that sharing my perspective can help others.”
The next Fresh Start program begins Tuesday, July 5. Classes are held at the Daytona Beach Campus and Deltona Campus. Classes meet Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information or to reserve your seat, call the Daytona Beach Campus at (386) 506-4377, or Deltona Campus at (386) 789-7320.
Daytona State also offers a Fresh Start for Men program, designed to help men preparing to transition into career and technical training, associate of science, or certificate programs at Daytona State. The free four-week program provides an atmosphere of support and encouragement, while offering practical tools for setting goals to be successful in life. Classes are held Monday through Thursday and meet from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on the Daytona Beach Campus. The next four-week program starts Tuesday, July 5. Eligible male students will complete a Personal Development Plan, which will provide a road map to explore career options, examine educational opportunities, and establish personal and career goals. They will also learn interview and job-readiness skills and how to create a resume for successful entrance into the workforce. Participants must have a high school diploma or GED, or be referred by a representative from the College’s School of Adult Education. To register, or for additional information about the Men’s Fresh Start program, call (386) 506-3068.