Jennifer Guardado was looking for a new career just as the pandemic hit last year. That search stopped for the 26-year-old Lawrence woman when she, like many others, needed to stay home to care for her child after the schools shut down. 

However, even a year later, that hasn't translated into her having no career options on the horizon, she said. Rather, she will be enrolling in the medical assistant program at Andover's LARE Institute as soon as her daughter gets back to school full time.

Despite massive unemployment over the past year, the LARE Institute has been successfully helping people like Guardado explore new fields in healthcare, business and various trades. 

Operated by the nonprofit American Training, LARE is the organization's educational, occupational skill training and job placement program.

“We have companies reaching out constantly for students, and we don’t have the students," said Tiffany Mottola, the institute's executive director.

LARE serves those with disabilities, at-risk youth, the unemployed and underemployed, and lifelong adult learners. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, they have also helped navigate career changes for those employed in the hardest-hit industries.

"This is what’s so rewarding," Mottola said, describing shifts from homeless shelters or chronic unemployment to "all of the sudden getting the $30 an hour job."

Guardado previously worked in cosmetology and as a receptionist, but she knew she wanted to be in the medical field.

LARE's medical assistant program gave her the technical training and proper certifications within a few months for just under $6,000. At a comparable community college, the classes would have taken longer and cost about $15,000, plus more for the certifications, Mottola said.

In addition to the technical training, “they teach you all the special things you need to get a job,” Guardado said.

She received help with writing her resume and learning how to prepare for a job interview. She was also able to attend workshops about mental health and wellness.

"They help you with real-life situations not just the coursework," Guardado said.

The institute prides itself on ensuring its students are taken care of during their time in classes, Mottola said. It intertwines social work with education to help particularly disadvantaged people enrolled through the state, she said.

“Typically school won’t care about if you are eating breakfast before class or if your daughter has shoes," Mottola said. "We care."

Most recently during the holidays, the staff brought presents to the children of students in the institutes' young parents program. The program, paid for by the state, helps train parents younger than 24 years old, Mottola said.

These life-changing opportunities to find higher-paying work really help students, she said.

“You see this crazy transition in such a short time. People are getting apartments or putting down payments on a house," she said. "It’s amazing."


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