One family's struggle to get off the welfare rolls

Eloise Ojeda Garcia sits on the arm of the sofa and runs her fingers lovingly through the hair of her five-year-old son, who has paused near her after squirmming along the rug. Her three daughters sit quietly nearby.

''I hardly ever tell them, but I'm proud of them,'' she says of her four children. ''They've been through a lot.''

One of the things they are adjusting to is not having their mother at home very often. She attends a computer data entry course weekdays and works evenings in a department store fitting room as supervisor at $4.75 an hour.

''She comes and she goes; she comes and she goes,'' says Esmeralda, the eight-year-old. ''We hardly get to see her.''

Breaking off the welfare rolls is not easy.

Mrs. Garcia, a former migrant farm worker whose father still works the fields , earns $200 to $300 a month on her part-time job. Separated from her husband, she qualifies for $200 a month in food stamps and another $300 in welfare (Aid to Families with Dependent Children).

''I don't want to depend on welfare,'' she says. She wants a job that can pay her enough to support the family and provide family health benefits.

''I study late; sometimes I even fall asleep on the desk,'' she says.

Her training course is offered by the Center for Employment Training (CET), which opens its doors to anyone, no matter how poor and how uneducated. Mrs. Garcia, for example, completed only the eighth grade.

''We do not screen anybody out of training,'' says CET executive director Russell Tershy. He and a community activist, the Rev. Anthony Soto, founded CET in 1967. Since then, by their count, they have trained more than 26,000 people. Training is offered today for such jobs as secretary, custodian, machine-tool operator, electronic assembling, and computer operator.

''The best way to take people off welfare - and we can prove it - is technical training,'' says Mr. Tershy, who sits at a small, round conference table in his corner office in CET's not-so-elegant headquarters in San Jose.

CET apparently has not had the kind of long-term follow-up of its graduates that some employment-training programs have had. But the Rockefeller Foundation recently granted it $1.2 million to train welfare mothers for jobs.

The CET approach - technical skill and care for the trainees - helps trainees gain ''dignity,'' Tershy says. ''It's almost a spiritual awakening.''

In a classroom visited here, an instructor asks Mrs. Garcia and the other women to stand up and describe their positive attributes, something she says people too often overlook. One woman, too afraid to speak, gets a hug from the instructor. Among the responses of the others: ''I'm a good person; self-respect; I'm trying to get it together.''

Then Mrs. Garcia stands up. Quietly, with a big smile, she says: ''I'm going to make it.''

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