The Opportunities Industrialization Center celebrated nearly 60 years of changing lives through its workforce development and education programs with a big block party Friday night at its office in North Philadelphia.
The event invited program alumni to return and celebrate their success.
Among those successful alumni is Darlene Jones, owner of Star Fusion Express, a restaurant at 5178 Parkside Avenue in West Philadelphia.
"The brand itself is American, Asian and Caribbean," said Jones of her creation. "We're known for our famous win, bowl and roll combinations."
Though Jones dreamed up the creative culinary concept, she never could have dreamed she'd be an entrepreneur when she was a teen arrested for fighting.
"I just knew I didn't want to be a victim of my neighborhood if anything I wanted to change my neighborhood," said Jones.
She was able to do just that with help from the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC). It was founded nearly 60 years ago by Rev. Dr. Leon Sullivan. Leaders with the nonprofit say its mission is just as important today.
"We stand at the intersection of workforce development, social justice and economic empowerment," said Sheila Ireland, president and CEO of Philadelphia OIC.
With workforce development and education programs, the nonprofit helps level the playing field for underserved communities.
"Our focus is on unemployed or underemployed," said Ireland.
There are training programs in hospitality, skills, healthcare and financial services. All of them are free.
"It needs to be free," said Ireland. "The reality is the community we're serving, we don't want to put additional burden on folks."
After representatives with OIC visited the facility she was being housed in after being arrested as a juvenile, Jones took advantage of the education program at OIC.
"It was baby steps, but they got me through and I finished with a GED," she said proudly.
It put her in the position to go to college and start her business.
"I'm so proud of Chef Darlene for opening this incredible space," said Ireland.
Friday was the first time that OIC held an alumni block party. The event was emceed by 6abc's Gray Hall.
Jones is grateful for the fact that OIC changed her path. She's spent her years since encouraging others to take advantage of the free program and see how it can change their lives.
The OIC has a rolling schedule of programs that people can sign up for year-round. Those interested in learning more can visit OIC's website https://www.philaoic.org/, call the office at 215-236-7700 or visit the office in person at 1231 North Broad Street.