Candi Inman's done some graduating in the past few weeks.

First, she "graduated" from a self-directed job-search class.A few days later, she graduated from the ranks of the unemployed.

Inman has been a "welfare mother" since her marriage broke up last spring. She applied for Aid to Families with Dependent Children when it became obvious she couldn't make a life with her 3-year-old son, Jessup, unless she received help.

For the past six months, they have lived on a $301 monthly grant and food stamps. During months when the state collected child-support from her ex-husband, she received an extra $50. But, in her words, she hasn't been living "the high life."

A few months ago she was depressed and unenthusiastic about welfare reform. Now, she thinks it's wonderful.

The big change came when she enrolled in Dean Curtis' self-directed job-search class. The Department of Social Services hired his company to provide the classes to staff members and self-sufficiency participants.

"The class is wonderful," Inman said.

At the end of five seven-hour classes, taught by Dennis Miller and John Ross, Inman received a "diploma," along with other graduates. More than that, she said, she received information and encouragement and the assurance that she could find a job.

"I walked out believing it was possible. It was so different from other (self-sufficiency) classes I've taken. They have a plan and know what they're doing," she said. "If you get down on yourself, everyone picks up a red flag and waves it. It sounds silly, but you wouldn't believe how well it works. For one thing, it's hard to be down on yourself when you're laughing."

The most valuable lesson, she said, was the chance to talk to interviewers from actual businesses. They came in to help students hone job-application techniques.

"I've never been through a class that good," she said. "I don't usually like classes. Going in I felt really blah. `Oh boy, another class.' But I learned so much and I loved it. Others did a total turnaround, too."

Job Service gave her a lead on a clerking job, and armed with new courage and skills, she set up an interview and "even remembered to send a thank-you letter afterward."

From that interview, she was passed up the managerial ladder for other interviews. After five days of training, she started work as a full-time employee.

Jessup, in the meantime, is in preschool. Inman's mother will care for him the nights she works the graveyard shift.

Employment will obviously change Inman's status for welfare. For a while, part of her minimum-wage salary will be ignored in calculating her benefit (called an income disregard by the department). As her earnings rise, her grant will drop, according to Clearfield Social Service staff worker Beverly Millard.

Inman must enroll in the benefit package offered by her new company, which will reduce or eliminate the state's financial obligation for Medicaid coverage, Millard said.

This $3.75-an-hour job won't put the Inmans on Easy Street. Inman knows things will be "tight" in a few months, unless they can get into low-income housing.

But for the first time in months, she's ready to face the challenges. She has big plans. In January, if all goes well, she wants to enroll part time at Weber State College in Ogden.

"I'll just have to see how it goes," she said. "I'm certainly not ready to be totally independent yet. But for once, I think I'm making progress."

We'll check in with the Inmans soon to see how things are going.