VIRGINIA (WDVM) — The Virginia Ready initiative is helping people get back to work after their prior jobs may have been affected by COVID-19 via training at Virginia community colleges and a $1,000 stipend for completing certification.

Mewael Hailegiorgis used to work at Reagan National Airport, but he lost his job after the airport closed. He has been freelancing in translation work, interpretation, and voiceover transcription as well as doing some deliveries to try to make ends meet. He recently finished coursework related to certified billing and coding.

“It’s not only the one form of payment, but all the freedom to learn and the impact it is going to have for your future, it’s going to be very great,” he said.

“Over 1 million people have filed for unemployment, or people have been underemployed – they’ve now had to figure out how to make ends meet,” said CEO Caren Merrick.

While VA Ready started out only targeting individuals who had completely lost their jobs, they recently announced that their program would be expanding to include underemployed individuals as well.

“We realized that a lot of people who became unemployed had to go out and find some work just to make ends meet, and so we were finding people coming to us saying, but I’ve got a part-time job am I disqualified, or I’ve got two part-time jobs because I have to pay my rent and support my family, and we listened, we said you’re right your employment has been disrupted and we’re here to help you,” said Merrick.

VA Ready was launched on August 1. Almost 500 people have signed up for their program. They partnered with community colleges across the state to help offer these classes as well as businesses including Bank of America and SAIC to provide funding, jobs, and further training support.

Merrick said, “I believe that our business partners are visionary and I have appreciated seeing the imagination of both of business community to support the Virginia ready initiative and to help fund these awards but I’m also inspired by the people who are finding the motivation and the courage to go out and get these new skills.”

VA Ready also received a $30,000 award from the Microsoft Community Empowerment Fund on Tuesday. A release said that this award will help them further their mission of giving Virginians access to training to get back to work.

“We learned that there are really thousands and thousands of jobs that are available right now, and these are resilient jobs with career pathways ahead of them,” said Merrick.

“I would advise anyone to go and look for some topic that interests them and to use this opportunity at this time,” said Hailegiorgis. “This is a very big chance also for anybody who wants to pursue their education, to go and use the opportunities given by VA Ready.”

Hailegorgis is one of almost 50 people who have already completed their certification and received the end reward.

He said, “It’s not only the $1000 that you get, but the comfort and education that you get at the same time will help you for your lifetime.”

More information about VA Ready’s program can be found on their website.