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ESPRI Funding May Have Ended, But Local Fight Against Poverty Has Not

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

The Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative did a lot of good in the Jamestown area, and the seeds the state money allowed local officials to plant can bear fruit for quite some time into the future.

Created after Jamestown received $1 million from the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative, the local task force was created by the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County to administer the program.

ESPRI has been a success in Jamestown. Six of the original seven programs created locally are still in operation with support from local foundations, federal grants or incorporating the programs into existing local operations. Local programs focused on helping people secure and retain employment; supporting employers and employees; educational preparation; and family and community support for employment.

According to the executive summary of Jamestown’s ESPRI program, 53% of the individuals impacted were female, 19% were Hispanic, 62% were working-age adults ages 26-64. The average cost per household served was $2,533; 214 individuals secured employment; 101 have enrolled in education, certification and training programs; 360 engaged with a coach, mentor or support staff identifying goals and steps to move them out of poverty or ALICE; $69,104 in emergency assistance to 205 households, primarily for barriers related to childcare, transportation and housing;14 local employers whose “at-risk” employees were supported by ESPRI programs; and 156 “at-risk” employees who retained their employment.

Amy Rohler, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County executive director, is absolutely correct when she says the end of state poverty reduction money shouldn’t mean the end of a community group that has been working on poverty reduction programs.

The program may have ended, but poverty has not. There is still a lot of work to be done — but now we have to find resources here in our own backyard.

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