By the time he had graduated from Westinghouse High School, Gregory Collier could barely read a paragraph. Even after taking an extra year to finish his requirements, Collier still worried his grades were not high enough to graduate.
“My education didn’t prepare me for anything except some subservient job,” Collier said. “I was basically passed through. In actuality they did me a disservice.”
Since then Collier has spent his life helping others overcome their misfortune. With a master’s degree in organizational leadership, he has founded two youth outreach programs, fostered 15 children and currently serves the United Africa Support Center.
“I love people of all races and cultures. Everyone deserves an opportunity,” Collier said. “Helping people is my personal joy. It’s like watching the budding of a flower.”
Collier has carried his passion for helping others into his new position as coordinator of Community College of Allegheny County’s Young Adult Empowerment Program.
YAEP is aimed at helping undereducated and underemployed 17- to 24-year- olds complete training for careers in high priority fields. The first group of 14 students is set to begin CCAC classes in June.
The program is free to participants and they are also provided with transportation to CCAC’s West Hills Center. A large component of the program is helping students earn their GED and ensuring their math and literacy skills are up to standards.
Certificates in fields such as welding can be earned in as little as 90 days, but students can also choose to complete an associate degree. Other programs include training to be an automotive technician, heating, air conditioning and refrigeration specialist, and engineering assistant.
“I tell each individual, we do have all these mechanisms in place, but this is not an entitlement program,” Collier said. “We’re going to help you in every way we can, but you have to do the work. This is an empowerment program, not an entitlement program.” YAEP was created in partnership with the Black Political Empowerment Project/Coalition Against Violence, Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and Youth Places. Each organization will help with outreach efforts while helping to prepare participants in a variety of areas such as life skills training.
“They come to the table with a number of concerns that can become barriers,” Collier said. “We want to offset some of this through our life skills training.”
Collier continues to work on increasing YAEP’s community connections. He also plans to reach out to a variety of organizations in order to draw a more diverse pool of participants.
“We were looking for someone who had experience working within the community and someone who had the ability to identify persons who had interests in furthering their career development. We were looking for someone who had a connection with those individuals and the issues they face,” said CCAC President Alex Johnson. PhD. “He exhibited all those characteristics. He has a real empathy for people who strive to reach their goals.”