Michael, a 55 year-old resident of Weinland Park in Columbus, Ohio who lost his warehousing job did not know where to turn. “I lost my job in 2011 and my whole world crumbled,” Michael explained. “I lost my apartment, my relationship and my freedom. I felt defeated and I had no self-esteem. I thought that I was going to be able to bounce right back and get a job, but no, that didn’t happen. I would apply for jobs and I would never hear back from employers. I felt punished by society. I wondered ‘what am I doing wrong?’ I am over 50 years old and suddenly for the for the first time, I felt useless. I needed help.”
IMPACT Community Action Agency in Columbus has been helping Weinland Park residents find employment through their workforce development initiative Employment Plus Program (EPP) as part of a broader community revitalization project.
The Weinland Park area outside of downtown Columbus had been experiencing an economic decline, but the area is now seeing a resurgence thanks to the Weinland Park Collaborative (WPC), a group of 20 agencies that is focusing on improving and sustaining the quality of life in the neighborhood through renovating homes and providing educational and employment opportunities to the 4,800 residents.
The JPMorgan Chase Foundation (Chase) is one of the principal funders of the WPC. Recognizing the importance of investing in programs that will help individuals and families achieve and maintain economic self-sufficiency through well-paying and higher skilled jobs, Chase invested $100,000 in IMPACT Community Action’s EPP. IMPACT’s EPP assists participants with developing the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to find and maintain employment. It features a customized curriculum that leverages best practices from two nationally-recognized work-readiness programs. EPP is an intensive five-week program that models a traditional work week; Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Participants who meet attendance and performance standards receive a stipend of $100 per week to help bridge small financial gaps while in training. EPP graduates are paired with a job coach to assist them with their job placement and may earn an additional stipend of $60 per week if they meet the performance standards for job searching.
Michael is just one successful graduate of the EPP program in Weinland Park. Michael explained that when he first came to IMPACT he felt intimidated. “I didn’t know anything about computers. I had to work through a lot of my fears and insecurities,” he said. “Over the years I had developed an arsenal of excuses. These were my own personal thoughts and philosophies that I used to comfort myself and explain how unfair the system was and why I had not found employment. I had no idea how this program would help someone like me.”
But as Michael began attending classes, his attitude changed. “I was in the Employment Plus Program seated in class when I realized that the world was passing me by. I was being left behind. I was ‘old school’ and ‘old fashioned’ and if I continued in this manner, I would never get my life back,” he explained. “I had several epiphanies in that classroom. I had become so focused on my self-talk that I didn’t see the bigger picture, which was that the world had changed since the last time I looked (for a job) and I had not. I thought that getting a job would solve all of my problems, however, being unemployed was just one of my challenges.
“Central case management provided the guidance that I needed to identify my road blocks and helped me navigate my issues. My case manager helped me to realize that I had options and resources to improve my situation. IMPACT calls it ‘service coordination’ but to me, it meant I wouldn’t face these challenges alone and that somebody would have my back. I was able to navigate through issues that would stop me from being successful.
“The transition came when I noticed that I began to look like my friend who told me about the program. I was hopeful and I saw my neighborhood differently. I noticed once boarded-up houses being replaced with new housing and community gardens springing up. Illegal activities were decreasing in the area and people were becoming neighbors again. I was living in a community in the midst of transition and now I had become a part of it and it felt good. As a matter of fact, it was the best that I had felt in a long time.
“When I graduated from the Employment Plus Program, I felt so uplifted. I felt confident and my self-esteem improved. I straightened up my shoulders, lifted my head and began my job search. Although I didn’t get the first job that I applied for, I did not get discouraged because I knew this experience would sharpen my interviewing skills and boost my self-confidence. I had my tool kit, I was ready and I knew that I would find employment. Everything that I learned in that classroom had now become applicable and I remained focused.”
Michael is now a full-time security guard theft prevention officer for a recycling company earning a livable wage. “When I got the job confirmation, I felt incredible,” Michael said. “I went to work and I felt brand new. I have taken my new skills with me and I’m building on them every day. I will never allow myself to get left behind again.”
Michael said of the program and JPMorgan Chase Foundation’s investment in IMPACT, “You will never know how good it feels for me to be able to pay my bills, provide food, clothing and shelter for my family, and to save money for the future. You made a wise investment in IMPACT Community Action. I know it may be just dollars to your foundation, but to me it was hope and I am a different man because of the opportunity that you provided for Weinland Park. IMPACT is a part of me now and I will always recommend Community Action when others need help. They saved my life!”
For more information about Community Action programs in your area, visit www.oacaa.org. Note, not all Community Action Agencies offer workforce development programs.