El Camino College Offers Commercial Trucking Class to Formerly Incarcerated Students
Paul Millsap always tells his children and grandchildren, “There is nothing you cannot do if you really want to.” He is proving his point by spending every spare moment studying – in between working two jobs – to earn his truck driving license through a class at El Camino College.
Millsap is one of 10 students in a group of formerly incarcerated people working toward a commercial truck driving license through a 10-week course offered by El Camino College’s Community Education. This particular 170-hour “Truck Driver Class A Commercial License” course is funded by Goodwill Southern California and provides education and a direct link to a new career pathway. Students prepare to take the California commercial truck class A driver’s license written exam and driving test, gaining hands-on instruction and practice in a big rig. Instructors and staff offer assistance and support all the way up through the job search process and the exam at the DMV, where they provide the truck for the test.
“There is a lot more to this than just driving a car, and I’m learning to make a career out of this,” said Millsap, a dedicated student with an optimistic outlook. “There are a lot of challenges ahead, but you have to decide what you want to do with your life. Things happen, but today is a new day – it’s a blessing. I can do this. I have so many people helping me. They are inspiring me to do this.”
Millsap was a trucker with his brother for seven years, before his incarceration, and now he wants to earn his license, own his own truck, and start a business that includes his wife and five children.
Every move he makes aligns with his career goals; he said this class has made him feel ready for anything.
“What does this class mean to me? A whole lot: Words cannot express what it means to me,” he said. “I can start by saying financial independence, a strong career, hope for the future – it’s all there. And, oh man, I love this class, it is at the best college, with the best instructor Joey, and the best classmates. We are all working together, trying to be successful, and looking to be the best truck drivers we can.”
A unique partnership with community organizations made this class possible at El Camino. Support came from Friends Outside in Los Angeles County (FOLA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting people who are incarcerated/formerly incarcerated and their families, and Goodwill Southern California, which covered 100% of the costs for this group of students.
“This is one of those kismet collaborations, where everything came together perfectly and rapidly,” said ECC Director of Community Education Betty Sedor, who coordinated the new class. “We had already offered truck driving classes, but this is the first time we are offering a full cohort exclusively for formerly incarcerated students. This is real community building for our students and for the college. The people working on this have so much devotion to our students – it’s incredibly inspiring. I believe there is magic to creating a class expressly for a group of students who share a similar life experience, whether this includes older adults, formerly incarcerated, veterans, or emancipated former foster youth. By working through a class together, my hope is for higher completion rates. If a group of students are bonded together, they are more likely to succeed.”
The class was advertised on the ECC Community Education brochure, which caught the attention of Marcia Lewis, a retired career services adviser at Santa Monica College who is now a job developer at FOLA, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. She asked Sedor if there were funds to support the fees of formerly incarcerated students so they could join the class.
“This class is about learning and preparing for a career, but it is also about connecting and building positive relationships,” Lewis said. “They are so excited to begin this new stage in their lives. What is so beautiful about this cohort is that our clients are all together in a community where they feel comfortable and safe, and where they can support each other. I saw that right away; they were talking to each other and giving each other encouragement. They are with people who understand where they’ve been. This is just the beginning. I know the positive impact that community colleges can make. It is our hope that these students will continue on at ECC and attain degrees.”
The class is also a good fit with Goodwill’s mission to “transform lives through the power of work,” while providing education, training, work experience and job placement services.
“Goodwill Southern California specializes in populations with the greatest barriers to employment including veterans, homeless, individuals with disabilities, at-risk youth, the formerly incarcerated, and many more,” said Tracy Martinez, apprenticeship coordinator for Goodwill Southern California. “We provide a wide range of programs and services in partnership with local government, employers, educators, and nonprofit organizations, which is critical to our work.”
At El Camino, students have access to resources such as the Formerly Incarcerated Re-Entry Students Thriving (FIRST) Program, which provides academic and basic needs support to formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students. Some students are already thinking about taking more ECC classes.
The first class kicked off with a celebration that included breakfast burritos, pastries, coffee, and backpacks full of ECC swag. El Camino College President Brenda Thames welcomed the group.
“These students are moving toward a bright future through education,” said President Thames. “We are proud to have them join the Warrior family.”
The warm welcome at El Camino made her goals seem even more possible, said Keyshanna Gray, who is taking the class with her husband Aaron.
“I can tell that everyone wants to make sure we are successful and that we know what we’re doing so we can pass the test,” she added. “I really like everything, the driving, the mechanical aspects – I’m trying to absorb all the information I can.”
The Grays plan to work together and are interested in starting their own business. They acknowledge the challenges – they are both working other jobs and are raising their seven children, ranging in age from 8 months to 18 years old.
“For us to go through all these challenges and to see how far we’ve come already, we just decided that we are a team, and nothing can stop us,” Keyshanna Gray said. “We had never seen this day coming, so now we are taking full advantage of it all. We have been given the tools to be successful, now we need to pick them up and use them. It’s not easy, but sometimes you got to get out of your comfort zone and just do it.”
The Grays study together and help keep each other on track. In an interesting twist, Keyshanna Gray was recently reunited with her godfather, who was also enrolled in the class.
“I couldn’t believe it – we had lost touch with him, and we are so happy to find him,” she said. “That’s the thing about this class; it’s not just about your story. It’s everyone’s story that’s important. We work as a group. Any challenges we need to overcome, we can do it together. We are headed for something better.”
For more information about the “Truck Driver Class A Commercial License” class, view www.elcamino.edu/academics/community/rapid-job-training/truck-driver.aspx; for other ECC Community Education opportunities, view: www.ECCommunityEd.com, call 310-660-6460, or text 424-279-4430.