Orlando Sanchez’s path to stability has been a strenuous one. More than 25 years ago, Sanchez arrived in Atlanta for a job at a Thai restaurant with a plan to save and send money to his struggling family in Costa Rica. He worked 15-hour days, but at only $3 an hour, the savings were scant to none. He didn’t know anyone and didn’t speak English. Feeling hopeless and with little to lose, he left the restaurant and ended up on the streets, working odd jobs. Homesick and broken, he fell into despair and addiction followed.

Eventually, Sanchez headed south to Florida where he moved in and out of rehabilitation centers. While at Baptist Health in Miami for emergency care, he was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and was prescribed medicine that enabled him to see things more clearly. Life started to look up for Sanchez when Baptist referred him to one of the emergency housing beds at Camillus House that they fund. There, he met regularly with a psychiatrist and found a community through participating in group therapy sessions. In time, Sanchez felt stable and full of hope that he could start a new life; he felt ready to get to work. He took advantage of Camillus’ expanded Workforce Development services and life skills programs to get prepared.

“Earlier in my life, I’d never found a profession and that motivated me to study and learn more and overcome,” says Sanchez says, who started by diving in and earning a GED. “At first I wasn’t sure about studying, but then I realized I was good at memorizing things.” Next, he enrolled in the 14-week construction trades course offered in partnership with Florida International University (FIU) that allowed him to graduate with a certificate as a Construction Craft Laborer from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) while also obtaining a 30-hour OSHA certification. His NCCER certificate tells potential employers that he has learned the skills of the trade, but the 30-hour OSHA certification is golden. With it, a job applicant “can walk into any construction site in Miami-Dade with a card that says [graduates] understand safety measures. In the construction field that makes them highly employable,” Camillus House CEO, Hilda M. Fernandez explained in a recent interview with Miami Today. Also included in the training program: 32 hrs. of job readiness training provided by a new partner, Neighbors and Neighbors Association.

After completing the construction course, he enrolled in Camillus House’s Culinary Arts Program offered in partnership with Miami Dade College’s Hospitality Institute. When he graduates with a Kitchen Cook certificate this fall Sanchez will settle into an apartment with a co-worker from a local Greek restaurant. Sanchez has his eyes set on a full-time job at a hotel in Miami. And all along, he has been taking advantage of the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes offered at Camillus through the Camillus YOUniversity Life Skills Curriculum – to help him in the workplace.

Fernandez notes that Camillus House not only offers programs to help residents like Sanchez become more employable, but they are constantly looking for new training opportunities to help local businesses fill their staffing needs. “We heard from the hospitality industry that hotels were having a hard time filling their maintenance positions,” she says. “So we worked with Miami Dade College’s Hospitality Institute to develop a new certificate program that could prepare our clients to fill that need – a program that we are now offering as well.” Camillus is working with FIU to similarly launch a three-day forklift certification program that includes a 10-hour OSHA.

Through Camillus’s expanded and improved educational, vocational and professional programs, Sanchez has had the chance to prepare for success and get back on track with his original goal to help his family back in Costa Rica — while succeeding in his new life here in Miami. “Just like that, my life was changed,” he says.

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