SOAR Program Helps Workers With Education Costs


Want to jumpstart careers, change careers or upgrade job skills to improve marketability? Wellington residents take note: applications are currently being accepted for the SOAR program.

SOAR stands for Skills, Opportunity, Achievement, Reward, and it’s a tuition-reimbursement program aimed at moderate and low-income residents who qualify, said John Darnell, project management assistant for Wellington and the SOAR program administrator.

The idea is to improve access to education and jobs for lower-wage earners. This is the first year Wellington has offered the program, which is funded through a U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development community development block grant.

Wellington got about $200,000 in block grant money this year with $15,000 earmarked for SOAR, Darnell said. If it’s successful, the village could apply again next year for the same amount of funding or possibly more.

So far, the program is proving successful, Darnell said. Since it began on May 1, seven residents have applied, with three ruled ineligible, four eligible and three approved. One application is pending.

Here’s how it works: residents apply online. If they qualify — there is an income requirement — they select a program of study from an approved list of target occupations. These are areas where the state expects job growth, Darnell said. More than 100 occupations are listed, including everything from food service managers to graphic designer to registered nurses.

Typically, a single person would have to make less than $38,550 per year, while a single mother with three children would have to make less than $55,050 to qualify for SOAR, Darnell said.

These are not necessarily typical degree programs, he explained. They really are designed to give those in dead-end or low-wage jobs a chance to improve, or help those unemployed find career paths. “I want to help people not in an education program to get in one,” Darnell said, adding that his measure of success for the program would be to spend all or almost all of the $15,000.

Wellington will reimburse students up to a maximum of $1,000 once they prove they’ve successfully paid for and completed a class. Students must provide transcripts with grades and receipts for course payment.

Qualified residents can also apply for classes that will help them upgrade their skills. For example, an administrative assistant might want to learn Microsoft Office Suite in order to improve his or her chances of getting a promotion or applying for a position. Palm Beach State College offers such continuing education courses, and Wellington would reimburse for that through SOAR, Darnell said.

And there isn’t a long wait time between applying for and becoming eligible. It could be done in the same week, as long as all the requirements are met — meaning proof of residency and income eligibility are provided and a course of study is selected, Darnell said. Snags only occur when potential students apply, but aren’t prepared.

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