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Nonprofit Helping Unemployed Residents Get Back to Work

Office Building
The Downtown office building of the Virginia Employment Commission. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News).

*Joi Bass reported this story

Due to COVID-19’s impact on businesses, millions of Virginians have experienced furloughs, layoffs and reduced hours across the commonwealth. 

This summer, the Virginia Ready Initiative  was launched with a goal to help people get back to work, particularly those disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn of the pandemic.

More than 800,000 Virginians filed unemployment claims, including many people of color working in lower paid industries like food service and accommodation. 

At the same time those workers lost their jobs, demand soared in fields like healthcare, technology, manufacturing and other skilled trades, but required additional certifications or training.

To help match the newly unemployed with emerging jobs, VA Ready partnered with over 30 companies in those in-demand sectors, and the Virginia Community College System. 

CEO Caren Merrick says the goal is to connect workers with empty positions.

“A lot of people lost jobs, but we are supporting credential programs so that people can get jobs that are available,“ Merrick said. “While there are thousands of people that lost their jobs, there are still thousands of jobs available here in Virginia.”

Because the pandemic has disrupted traditional educational programs and systems, Merrick says VA Ready is using new methods to train workers, and following CDC guidelines.

Edinberg resident Grayson Hopkins is enrolled in the program. 

Hopkins is a retired law enforcement officer with a background in digital forensics. He was laid off from his job last December as part of a larger round of layoffs.

While filing for unemployment, he was referred to the VA Ready program, and is currently obtaining his certification in cyber security. 

“I’ve been doing stuff like this for years without the certification. So while it looks ok on a resume having those certifications to back up, ok the guy says he knows what he’s doing, well now you got a certification that shows that,” Hopkins said. 

In collaboration with the FastForward program, VA Ready scholars receive a $1,000 credential achievement award. 

Hopkins said that he believes the award will be beneficial and help shape his future once he gains his certification. 

“No longer looking for jobs, no longer wondering what I’m going to do from now on, getting into a career field that’s going to be sustainable,” he said.

There are currently 400 people enrolled in the VA Ready program. Once they complete the program, the nonprofit will help them set up interviews in their career field. 

To learn how to enroll, or find out more about the program, visit

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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