From homeless to apprentice

Ozzie Lubach is among students benefiting from a partnership between San Diego Continuing Education and San Diego Rescue Mission. (Photo: SDCE)

Ozzie Lubach, who was raised by a single mom and stepfather in San Diego, was on track for a scholarship to the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

“I was very interested in joining the Navy after high school. It was a big part of my life,” Lubach said. “NJROTC gave me a sense of purpose.”

But when he was asked to leave the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC), that military scholarship disappeared and Lubach’s future plans changed forever.

For most of Lubach’s high school years, he moved in and out of public and private intuitions including home school due to substance abuse and bad behavior.

“I chose a lifestyle that I couldn’t get out of,” Lubach said. He opened up about his academic journey and shared his battle with depression and addiction during a recent roundtable discussion at the college.

“I put my family through a lot. It was difficult for my mom to watch me struggle. So I ended up at a boarding school in Arizona,” he said.

Just months following his high school graduation, Lubach found himself without a place to sleep when he returned home to San Diego, finding shelter at the Mission Valley Riverbed and bathing at a nearby Starbucks.

Lubach’s life turned around when he was admitted to the San Diego Rescue Mission’s (SDRM) 12-month residential recovery program, a rehabilitation service that guides men in need with therapy, vocational training and educational classes.

“Not even six months after I entered the Mission I was selected to learn a trade at San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE),” he said. “I’m holding on to this opportunity and grasping it with both hands.”

Wrap-around services

In 2016, SDCE, which is part of the San Diego Community College District and the largest provider of noncredit education in California, announced its pilot partnership with the charity, dozens of families who stay at the SDRM located in downtown San Diego are looking for emergency shelter, hot meals, transitional housing, recovery counseling, and now education and potentially hands-on job training.

Ozzie Lubach is on his way to becoming a journeyman plumber.

Now in its second year, the expanded partnership granted 12 SDRM clients the opportunity to pursue free career training programs in plumbing, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), welding and office assistant at an SDCE campus during the current spring semester.

“These men were hand-selected from a competitive pool that showed the most promising potential for success,” said Carlos Turner Cortez, president of SDCE. “Once the students complete their career training programs, we will work with the San Diego Workforce Partnership and SDCE employee partners to find jobs for students.”

“Education and workforce go hand-in-hand and each contributes toward self-sufficiency and success,” said Carlos Turner Cortez, president of SDCE. “Our goal is to leverage resources and provide social and emotional support to help students achieve and to ultimately build a successful strong workforce for the region.”

Once the students complete their career training programs, the college will work with the San Diego Workforce Partnership and SDCE employee partners to find them jobs, he said.

A journey to becoming a plumber

Lubach considered a career in plumbing, but was initially hesitant.

“I was worried about being inside a classroom after being on the streets for a while, but I started thinking about what I could do to provide for my future and my family,” he said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a plumber is $24.74 per hour.

“I no longer have to worry about stealing something just to eat or where I will rest my head the next day,” Lubach said.

Lubach will complete SDCE’s free plumbing certificate program this summer and will participate in SDCE’s commencement ceremony on June 1. Now 29, Lubach aspires to be a journeyman plumber within the next five years.

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