When nine people enrolled with Aiken Jobs for Life earlier this year, most of them readily acknowledged their reluctance to speak in public settings.

They had no such issues during a graduation ceremony on Friday, all of them speaking emotionally about the national, faith-based program administered through Christ Central Ministries in Aiken. Dianna Page expressed the excitement that enveloped her throughout the two-month program – especially for her champion, or mentor, Annie Berge.

“She led me in many, many ways,” Page said during the ceremony. “I'm just so grateful, and I thank all of you for being in my life and putting me on the right road. This is the first graduation I've ever had, and my heart is overjoyed.”

For more than eight years, Jobs for Life has provided opportunities for people seeking skills in a variety of ways – job search skills, resume development and educational opportunities. They also learn how to overcome obstacles that may interfere with their goals.

The other graduates were Jacqueline Cummings, Cynthia DeBord, Sheetal Godwhani, Hykeem Harris, Fran Jackson, Shaunmekia Johnson, Patricia Knight, Dianna Page and Verneka Ware.

The skills can be learned, but self-confidence is also essential, said Jenifer Ramseur, the Jobs for Life director who has worked with the program for nearly the entire time. She and others involved with the program as instructors and mentors are volunteers.

“The unique thing about this program,” Ramseur said in an earlier interview, “is that participants have their own mentor working with them – not only during classes, but for a full year. The students and mentors develop a rapport during class; the mentors can continue to encourage them and give advice.”

Kathryn McGlynn, a career counselor and teacher for more than 20 years, moved to Aiken in December and quickly took on the role as site leader. She is delighted that three of the nine graduates have gained employment, while Cummings and Knight, who are sisters, have started their own businesses.

“It has been a blessing and honor to accompany our students on this journey and see their lives transformed,” McGlynn said.

Knight heard about Jobs for Life during a WAAW Shout radio broadcast on Donna Wesby's weekly show. She promptly called Cummings and suggested they both enroll. Knight has opened Pat's Tailoring and is thrilled to take that step and Jobs for Life for her husband and children.

“Jobs for Life has really helped me,” she said “I'm learning new communications skills and values and how to market myself toward success. The instructors have been wonderful, and my fellow students have been a pleasure to get to know.”

Shaunmakia Johnson described a difficult period of her life, experiencing homelessness and needing help through Nurture Home for herself and her new baby. Now she's looking at college and is working out at Gold's Gym. Johnson is thankful for her heart-to-heart talks with Judy Floyd, the Christ Central director.

“I love the people here,” Johnson said, “and God is my father for what he has done for me.”

• Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.