Three months ago, Fatima Hargrove was looking for work. After completing a five-week job readiness program sponsored by the Newark municipal government and the city's corporate partners, she celebrated her graduation, newly employed and engaged in her future.

"I let the past go," said Hargrove, holding a bouquet and choking back tears as she addressed more than 100 people at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center on Tuesday. "Unemployment is not forever. We're getting past that not just to employment, but to success and to a future."

Hargrove was one of 20 graduates of the third class of the Hire Newark Employment Ready Boot Camp, a program that is designed to prepare Newark residents for entry level positions with Newark-based employers. The intensive program includes improving social skills and presentation and employability, site visits to potential employers coaching, and job preparation.

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"We have some folks that need a little polishing, and when they get polished, they're going to shine," said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who began the program in 2016. "We've reached out to anchor companies in Newark about what we're doing. Imagine if companies such as Verizon, Prudential and Audible did what's happening here today." 

"Greatness starts in the community, and what this represents in a big step forward," said Marc E. Berson, vice chair of the board of trustees of RWJBarnabas Health, a sponsor of the local employment program. "Once upon a time, the hospital focused on what happened within the buildings. Today, we look outside to the community, and we have plans for the wards [of Newark]. We want to make this program work. It's what the future is about." 

Baraka said job readiness fits into the city's Newark2020 job program to be launched in the next few weeks, designed to encourage to Newark businesses to hire locally and for residents to buy property and continue to live in the city.

"We have to identify the industries that are growing, train Newark residents to get them into those jobs, and incentivize people to live in the city," the mayor said.

"Health care is a critical component of the revitalization of Newark," said Darrell K. Terry, Sr., President and CEO of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. "We can build a lot of buildings in downtown, and I'm all for it. But until we impact the residents who live here and their families, the true realization has not occurred." 

Takia Filmore, a graduate of the second class of the program, is an example of what the sponsors of this initiative hope to achieve. She recently got a new job in health care, has started her own cake-making business, and just bought her first home with her husband.

"So many great things have happened since I sat in the same seat as you," Filmore said to the new graduates. "You guys have so much to look forward to, no matter what path you choose." 

After traveling a rocky road, Hargove's path is now quite promising. Once homeless, she now has a place to live. She will be working and studying at the same time, having been recently accepted to Essex County College. Even more importantly, Hargrove has now accepted how to improve her life.

"I had to learn to things about myself to make change," Hargrove, smiling as she received congratulations from her classmates. "I want to change. I want to do better for myself. This program helped me accept who I can be."