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Elevate Work graduation held

Families, friends, and supportive community members packed the auditorium at Elevate Branson on Wednesday, March 13, for the graduation of the spring 2024 class of Elevate Work.  Fifteen students received their certificates at the celebration.

Ryan Fain, Rebecca Vasquez, Danitza Besares, Shelby Fulks, Amanda Miller, Brandon Charboneau, Barb Guzowski, Joshua Smith, Amanda Peelor, Thomas Ventimiglia, Hunter Davidson, Ethan Richter Front row: Doug Lay and Donna McConkey Not pictured: Lexi Brandon, Caraleena Henderson, and Ray Henderson


Following welcoming remarks and opening prayer by instructor Doug Lay, attendees enjoyed a slideshow of class highlights.


The nine-week program is not an easy one; students must be in class twice weekly and complete all homework assignments. They learn practical skills and soft skills for job success, develop a 60-second “elevator pitch” and a resumé, and practice interview skills with a panel of community professionals and business owners. “It’s as hard or harder than a regular job,” said program director Donna McConkey.


Community panel members are vital for student success, Lay said, as are the volunteer mentors assigned to each student. Mentors are not required to have any particular educational level or experience, but simply to be there alongside the students and encourage them.


Featured speaker for the evening was Devra Leach, Vice President and Commercial Insurance Consultant with Connell Insurance Company. In addition to her work and involvement with various chambers of commerce and boards in the community, Leach is a runner, currently training for her 30th marathon.


Leach’s passion for running provided the perfect analogy for the graduates to continue what they’ve started at Elevate Work. She encouraged the graduates to “set a goal and work backwards,” because first establishing a vision and goal helps with creating a plan and sticking with it, fighting through the discouragement we all face at times. As part of the running analogy, she acknowledged the discomfort it takes to make progress, using the example of working for seven years to qualify for her first Boston Marathon; she has now completed several.


Leach also encouraged the class to continue the relationships they have developed with Elevate Branson staff, volunteers and classmates as a source of support, along with family members and keeping in touch with mentors, similar to how runners encourage one another.


Following Leach’s inspirational remarks, Donna McConkey took the podium to thank the many staff and volunteers who make each class possible, including the computer and finance instructors, thrift store employees who help select interview clothing, van driver Jim Rankin, and volunteer Cindy Watterson who provides treats at class sessions. She also thanked Fuddrucker’s for providing graduation dinner and Pink Zebra for the celebration dessert.


Next on the program was Cathy Brown, who conducts Elevate Work Kids concurrently with each Elevate Work class. This session had nine children, including two babies, and Brown thanked her volunteer helpers Kaitlyn and Abby from the Branson High School GO CAPS career exploration program for their valuable assistance helping the children learn skills like conflict resolution, kind words and caring for others.


The graduates and their mentors were then recognized, each pair sharing briefly before the graduates received their certificate of completion and a packet containing their action plan and resume.  


It was clear that the mentors felt they, too, benefited from the class, and hoped to keep in touch with the students. “My life is richer for Thomas being in it,” said his mentor, Trent. More than one graduate stated, “This is the first certificate for anything I’ve ever had in my life.” Another mentor complimented her student for persevering through “some really hard stuff” while completing the class. The students all identify their “why,” at the beginning of class, and this student’s goals included being employed as part of regaining custody of her daughter.


Students often say Elevate Work helps them in achieving other goals as well. One graduate, completing the class concurrently with a local recovery program, said, “This makes me even more confident about my future!” Some already have jobs lined up as a result of conversations with panel members; one student shared his excitement about starting a career at Cox Health Branson this week.


Registration is open for the next Elevate Work class, which begins March 25. It just takes a $20 application fee to get started; classes are FREE and include transportation, childcare and dinner. If helping people complete this life-changing program sounds like a great way to get involved in the community, visit to learn about becoming a mentor or community panel member.

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