Poverty Taskforce Discusses Success

Amy Rohler, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County executive director, discussing the first phase of the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative at Jamestown Community College Friday. The first phase of program has been completed, with the second phase already started. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

The Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative has completed its first phase and has already started Phase 2, which has led to some early success stories.

On Friday at Jamestown Community College, Amy Rohler, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County executive director, Krista Camarata, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County community impact director, spoke about what the seven agencies that received state funding through the $1 million poverty reduction program have done so far. 1

Camarata said one success story is due to the work the YWCA of Jamestown is doing with the Jamestown Community Learning Council. The YWCA received $150,000 for The Parents as Teachers PLUS program, which expands an existing program for teenage mothers to include those who have dropped out of high school, helping them with parenting skills and identifying a pathway to financial stability. It will also include a mentoring component to provide further supportive services.

Camarata said the Jamestown Community Learning Council works with pregnant teens while the YWCA is operating the mentoring program. She said for the mentoring program they have 15 volunteer coaches ready to assist seven people in the program. She added that the success story already achieved by the two agencies includes helping a women gain custody of her younger brother from a bad family situation. While taking care of her brother, the women is also going to JCC.

The Jamestown Public Schools received $90,130 to help address chronic absenteeism that often prevents ontime graduation from high school. The funding will support work-based learning to help students who struggle to succeed in a traditional classroom environment. Students will work at businesses that align with their interests, with an emphasis on encouraging entrepreneurial spirit. Camarata said a school officials has already placed 40 students into the program.

The Chautauqua Adult Day Services received $45,168 to help address the need for bilingual staff. Chautauqua Adult Day Services will provide 12 weeks of soft-skills training to bilingual job candidates. Participants will gain professional care-giving skills and greater English proficiency, with the opportunity to obtain Certified Nursing Assistant certification through a local employer. Camarata said the 12-week program just had their first graduate, who was placed with Heritage Ministries.

The Resource Center received $193,932 in funding to help low-income workers and 10 local employers with the goal of improving employee retention to assist individuals transition out of poverty. Employers will receive training to help them effectively support the complex needs of their workers living in poverty. Workers will receive help with handling financial emergencies, affordable housing, child care and transportation, among other challenges. Camarata said so far four businesses are participating in the program, with the goal being 10. She said so far the program has assisted a single mother find transportation to work so she didn’t lose her job.

The Mental Health Association in Chautauqua County received $126,136 to create a support network that will be established to help supplement human resources functions for designated employers with job openings, with the aim of improving employee retention. A peer specialist will be deployed to work with employers and employees to ensure a good match and help overcome barriers that emerge during the early weeks of employment. Camarata said the Mental Health Association is trying to create a employer resource network. She said so far the association has started resume and interview workshops.

JCC received $140,250 to provide educational and supportive services for low-income, single parents to help them obtain skills and credentials that lead to employment in higher-wage jobs. Camarata said one of the success stories so far is the program helped a single mother who has not attended JCC in three years pay for the one class she needed to earn her degree.

Community Helping Hands received $92,415 to hire low-income individuals at their thrift store to help them gain work experience while building soft skills, emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Participants will also receive coaching and develop individual employment action plans and will receive payment assistance for certification programs offered in the community to improve their chances of obtaining full-time employment. Camarata said the organization created the Grit to Great program to assist those in poverty in need of a hand up for success in life and work.

Rohler said each of the community agencies that received funding are collaborating with each other at a level she has never seen locally prior to the ESPRI program. She said the organizations meet monthly to discuss the challenges each faces.

Each agency is also inputting data into Charity Tracker online database, Rohler said. Early findings show that the seven agencies have already engaged 145 ALICE families, with the goal being to decrease the number of ALICE families in the city by 160 by 2027. ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed, which represents nearly 8,000 city households.

Rohler said primarily the agencies are assisting working-age adults, which is the one of the main goals of the program to help people gain and retain employment. She said in October the agencies are set to submit more data on the people they are assisting, which will include needs information, total employers engaged, individuals who have been employed and people who have earned educational or certification programs.

The point of the ESPRI program is to find transformational initiatives that are new or go further than what is currently being offered. Jamestown is one of 16 cities in the state participating in the program.

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