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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There were no caps and gowns, but plenty of smiles and hope for brighter futures at the graduation exercises of Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont Friday morning.

Linda Lorde retired a few years ago from her job with the United States Post Office in York County, S.C. But recent events have led her back to the job market and she quickly realized how much things have changed since she last looked for work.

Everyone is looking for a job. They had degrees. I feel I had to get that edge, Lorde said.

On Friday, she received a certificate in hospitality and tourism, which she hopes to turn into a job in that industry.

Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont offers training -- which runs anywhere from four to nine weeks -- in three core areas: hospitality and tourism, construction and banking and customer service.

In 2007, 6,500 people took advantage of the program. Last year that number swelled to more than 18,000 people.

We're talking everyone from people living in poverty right now to people with master's degrees, said Bo Hussey, vice president of marketing at Goodwill.

On Friday, 60 people were awarded certificates after completing the Goodwill program.

Tammy Blanding is one of them. She is a married mother of three college-age daughters. After years working in sports marketing, her job was downsized.

We went from two jobs to one, from two cars repossessed to buying a used one, and from a house to an apartment, Blanding said.

On Friday, she graduated with a certificate in banking and customer service and hopes her new skills will give her a leg up when it comes to getting into a new career.

I feel like I've gotten a fresh start. I've gotten more confidence in my skills again, Blanding said.

Goodwill said that more than two-thirds of graduates will find employment within three months.

For more information on the training program, visit http://www.goodwillsp.org/training.html.

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