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Initiative Assists More Than 300 Households

Amy Rohler, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County executive director, discussing the Jamestown Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) program at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown Tuesday. The city’s ESPRI program has assisted more than 323 households in 18 months. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

More than 300 city households have been assisted by a local poverty reduction initiative.

On Tuesday, the Jamestown Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) task force met to discuss accomplishments and next steps in the state program. Amy Rohler, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County executive director, said 323 households have been served, with 213 individuals impacted by the program.

ESPRI was first introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State address in 2016. Jamestown was one of 16 cities in the state selected to receive $1 million in funding to participate in the poverty reduction program. The local funding went toward programs that assist people in securing and retaining employment; support employers and employees; educational preparation; and family and community support for employment.

The Jamestown ESPRI task force consists of representatives from the city, county and state government; local school district and educational organizations; nonprofit and faith-based community organizations; local businesses who employ local people; workforce service entities; economic development organizations; public safety officials; and health services providers.

The local task force, which was created by the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County and is the administrator of Jamestown’s ESPRI program, has been meeting since November 2016 to develop a plan for solutions to help those living in poverty in Jamestown.

In May 2018, the planning process transitioned into an implementation operation as Jamestown’s ESPRI task force had selected local agencies to start programs to reach the goal of decreasing 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.

The organizations that received funding for programs included Community Helping Hands, The Resource Center, Mental Health Association of Chautauqua County, Jamestown Community College, Jamestown Public Schools, Jamestown Community Learning Council and the YWCA of Jamestown.

In 18 months, the city’s ESPRI program impact also includes employing 98 people, with 70% retaining employment at 90 days; 63 people enrolled in education/certification training programs; 273 people engaged with a coach, mentor or supporter to secure and retain employment or education; 14 local employers supporting ESPRI employees; and 52 at-risk employees who retained employment.

Rohler said the local task force received an additional $180,195 in funding in the 2019-20 state budget to continue the administration of ESPRI programs through March 2020.

She also said the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, Lenna Foundation and United Way of Southern Chautauqua County have also provided “bridge” funding for some ESPRI programs.

There is also the possibility of additional funding support in the 2020-21 state budget. Rohler said later this month a meeting will be held in Buffalo with state legislators to discuss the ESPRI program. She said nine United Ways throughout the state have been advocating for additional ESPRI funding in the next state budget.

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