The Grace Institute: Helping Underserved
When Carolina first came to the United States about 13 years
ago, she had a lot going for her: she could speak four languages
and she held a BA in journalism. But despite these skills,
there was something missing: she had never used a computer
before in her life.
"In this economy and in this information technology era
that weÕre in right now, everything is computerized," Carolina
said. "If you don't have the knowledge, you're going to
be left behind."
Because Carolina was having a tough
time paying the bills and did not have the computer skills
to get a higher-paying job, she applied for admission to
the Grace Institute–a
non-profit organization that helps the underserved women of
New York by providing them with the job training skills.
Founded in 1897, the Grace Institute
offers tuition-free administrative assistant programs during
both the day and the evening. Students spend nine months
taking courses in keyboarding, computers, business English,
business math and office procedures. Upon
completion of these requirements, the Grace Institute helps
its students to obtain full-time employment with many top banking
and law firms. About 300 of 1,000 applicants are accepted each
year, and the average class size ranges between 20--25 students.
"Our mission–has been to train our students in
computer and business skills to prepare them for the working
world as well as for self-sufficiency and an improved quality
of life," said Noreen Haider, an admissions manager at
the Grace Institute.
"We stimulate a learning environment
and an office environment so our students are prepared to
be the best employees that the Grace Institute can make them."
Carolina said she's impressed with both the teachers and classroom
environment at the Grace Institute.
"I believe it's a fountain of knowledge and I'm really
thirsty," she said with a laugh. "I'm really dying
to get in there and get every little bit I can."
"It's so well-done the way
they prepare women from the beginning to the end, from punctuality
or dressing nice in a business setting to how to portray
In order to qualify for admission, women must have a GED or
a high school diploma, be a US. Citizen or resident, be fluent
in English and be able to demonstrate a financial need. Women
who apply to the program must fill out an application and undergo
Erika Flores, a student at Barnard
College, has been working at the Grace Institute since the
summer. Part of her job involves conducting interviews with
prospective students, and she said that they receive a wide
range of women from all ages and backgrounds. "Most
of the women who come to the program are African American and
Latino women who live in the projects and are trying to get
their life together," Flores said. "You'd be really
surprised who comes there and even when you meet them, they
don't look like they need help, but when they tell you their
story and they tell you they've been caring for a sick mother
half their life and they don't know how to use a computer,
it means they need skills and they need our help."
Flores said her experience at an all-girls college really
influenced her desire to work at the Grace Institute.
"I thought it was up my alley, being that I go to an
all-women's college, and being a woman and feeling that it's
important to empower women," she said. "I went there
with the idea–that it would be great to help them realize
that there's a better life out there and there are possibilities
Every March, the Grace Institute
begins recruiting for new students. This year, the organization
will also be holding its annual open house from 10am-4pm
on March 24. "It's
an opportunity to learn skills and receive job placement for
free, and when I find women I know have been struggling, I
really try to show them the opportunity of what we're offering
them," Haider said.
Carolina said the best advice she
can give to women interested in applying is to be sincere. "They should insist with
the person that interviews them that they really need this," she
said. "And that you're willing to learn and once you get
there, make sure that you study because it's not an easy course
and you have to be very determined."#
For more information, visit www.graceinstitute.org or
call (212) 832-7605.