Eight people making a turnaround from prison to paying jobs took a big step Friday when they graduated from a vocational training program through the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board.
Friday's graduates, part of a group of 65 parolees in the program, honored their mentors and heard inspirational tales from actor and ex-con Danny Trejo during a ceremony at the Verdugo Jobs Center.
Trejo — who has worked in nearly 200 films, most recently "Machete" — underscored the need to stay clean, sober and on the right side of the law regardless of the temptations.
"I'd rather shoot for the moon and miss than shoot for the gutter and make it," Trejo said. "Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else."
The New Start program, funded by $171,000 in stimulus money through the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, trains parolees to earn jobs in fields ranging from nursing and counseling to the traditional trades.
All eight graduates on Friday are now heating and air conditioning technicians. Four are working, two have jobs lined up, and two are still looking, said Norma Jimenez, a career counselor who does everything from train workers in job skills to finding employers who will commit to giving parolees a second chance.
In addition to diplomas, the graduates received shiny gift bags containing work shirts and personal organizers. Graduates also received two-valve manifold gauge sets, important tools in the heating and air conditioning trade.
Don Nakamoto, a labor market specialist for the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board, thanked state Sen. Carole Liu (D-Glendale) for saving the program from the budget knife earlier this year.
In brief remarks, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John Gutierrez complimented the graduates on their perseverance. The graduates were Brian Almendariz, George Garcia, Daniel Gutierrez, Oscar Herrera, Norberto Ibarra, Jonathan Morales, Andre Roberts and Jerman Saldivar.
Richard Maldonado, 39, a Glendale native who is in the program, made a special presentation to Glendale parks commissioner Richard Bennett, who is helping several of those in the program to earn their general education degree.
"He's more than just a teacher," Maldonado said. "He gave me hope.
"A lot of people when they come out of prison, they don't know what to do or say, because they feel like outcasts, but all they need is a little guidance."