He wasted no time putting his plan into action when he was released from prison on March 16, 2018. Hatcher first needed to find a funding source, and his research led him to the job center for the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE). After exploring a few options and facing an initial funding setback, he was put in touch with Ambrosia Harrison from STLCC’s SkillUP program. The SkillUP program assists Missouri food stamp recipients who desire training or support to become employed or to improve their current employment situation. From there, the pieces began to fall into place.
“I got in touch with Ambrosia and Bahi [Talundzic] from the CDL program. I think I met with them once or twice, and everything was just beautiful,” Hatcher said. “The start of school, the schedule—everything just flowed smoothly. It was what I was waiting on. I was working hard, just grinding and grinding. I needed that big break.”
Hatcher’s persistence got him a seat in the class, but his optimistic mindset and steadfast work ethic were key to his success in the truck driving program. CDL students rotate through a rigorous combination of classroom instruction, driving simulator time and 45 hours of driving, exceeding the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) proposed minimum standards for training tractor trailer drivers. Graduates enter the field with the knowledge and confidence they need to safely, expertly manage such sizable vehicles.
“It’s five weeks, forty hours a week, so it’s like a full-time job,” Hatcher stated. “But I loved it because St. Louis Community College’s program was so amazing. We were there eight hours a day, so I got a lot of over-the-road, hands-on experience. I think if you’re going to send someone out there with a piece of eighty-thousand-pound equipment, you need to make sure they have the safety procedures down and they know what they’re doing.”
The students developed a deep bond, encouraging each other and pushing one another to succeed. Two of the participants in Hatcher’s class already had some exposure to commercial driving and were able to share insights with the students new to the industry.
“That worked out so well. With them having experience riding on tractors, being on farm equipment, dump trucks and everything, they could really help us out,” Hatcher said.
The SkillUP program is Missouri’s employment and training program for Food Stamp (SNAP) recipients. The program is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. The program is also funded through the Administration for Children and Families, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant.