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‘Opportunities’ program launches

A local educational program that helps ex-offenders and others gain job skills is now open to the community to help fund its charity work.

Ed Collum Sr. is the founder of Opportunities for Change, which he started in Alexandria in 2008 and moved to Suffolk several years ago.

“We believe Opportunities for Change has been a true resource for the city of Suffolk,” Collum said.

Collum is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, so he knows all too well the challenges that face those who find themselves in despair.

“I lived it,” he said at a launch event last week at The First Lady. “I know it. We have personally witnessed the despair of those in prison who had no hope.”

The program started in Suffolk as a cattle farm, where Collum hoped to help ex-offenders and others in need gain work experience as they re-entered the workforce.

The farm didn’t work out, but Collum thanks God that he was able to sell it for full price within a month after putting it on the market.

He redirected his focus and has gotten good results.

One client who spoke at the May 11 luncheon said he had been incarcerated from the ages of 16 to 26. He said Opportunities for Change paid for him to do a welding class and helped him get a job in his new career field.

“To this day, I’m still at the job,” he told the 80 or so people at the luncheon. “Everything they told me they would do, they have done. With them, the agenda is just to see me do good.”

“It’s been a really great partnership to work with them,” said Hayden Blythe of Hope for Suffolk, another organization that helps people in similar situations. “My specialty is not computer skills, and they offer all these amazing classes. For so many of my clients, that’s a roadblock for them. That’s a prime example of how no organization can do it all, especially since we’re a really small organization.”

Collum said available classes range from “hard skills” like typing and using computer programs to “soft skills” like conflict resolution and time management.

The classes are offered for free to anyone who is in need of them — for example, ex-offenders or those currently looking for work.

Collum also has made the programs available to companies that want their employees to learn more on the topics. The costs paid by companies, as well as individuals who can afford to pay, will fund the charity work of the organization.

For more information on the organization, visit www.oforc.org.