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Atlanta nonprofit offers free tech training for individuals living with disabilities

Nonprofit Bobby Dodd Institute launched the free, 20-week training this spring.

ATLANTA — Right now, seniors across the metro have their sights set on graduation - which can bring talk of college or job opportunities.

But one Atlanta nonprofit is continuing its mission to make sure all voices are part of the conversation. 

The Bobby Dodd Institute focuses on empowering people with differing abilities through employment, independence and inclusion, and program leaders recognized an untapped opportunity in Atlanta's growing tech industry. 

"As we entered the pandemic, we saw a greater need for robust networks, help desk technicians," Jerry Sutton, Director of Learning & Organizational Development for the nonprofit, explained. "We weren't sure what that would look like as we rolled out of the pandemic, but as we did, we realized, there were thousands of IT jobs vacant in the metro Atlanta area."

It's an arena that's limitless, instructor Justin Lanning added. 

"You have a car wash at the corner all the way to a multimillion dollar business down in Atlanta," Lanning said. "All of them are going to use some sort of information technology to run their business. So it's a really good career path because you have a multitude of different career paths to grow your career."

As a result, the nonprofit launched the Bridge Academy, a 20-week, tuition-free program specifically geared toward training individuals with disabilities for IT jobs. 

"So the Bridge Academy program is really one of a kind in Atlanta," BDI program manager Harper Bronson explained. "They are learning the basics with cybersecurity, networking so it's a very critical, highly important position."

The program focuses on the Cisco-Academy platform, Bronson added, allowing students real-time learning with one of the largest hardware/software makers in the industry. 

But it's the supportive learning environment that sets the program apart, Bronson and Sutton both emphasized. The program not only focuses on the technical side of training but soft skills including job and interview readiness, as well as 18 months of mentoring and job coaching via partner the Watering Seeds Foundation. 

"Just the confidence, the self-esteem we're seeing through the process is amazing," Bronson said. 

Applications for the program are currently open for the next session, while informational sessions are held Tuesday at 6 p.m. 

"Organizations like us give a voice to people who are often not being heard, and that extends to employment," Sutton said. "When you think about diversity, equity and inclusion, we like to say that's what we are. Often in a conversation, disability is still there, but it's often left out the conversation. We want to make sure it's front and center."

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