Sen. Jim Talent visited Columbia on Tuesday to hold up efforts by a local welfare-to-work program as an example for other communities across the country.
BooneWorks, a nonprofit consortium, recently announced the results of its 4 1/2 year welfare-to-work grant funded through the U.S. Department of Labor. The local project combined several community organizations to provide clients with job training, education, job placement and post-employment support.
Community support teams were formed to represent seven areas of need: child care, job training, food, health care, mentoring, housing and education.
The BooneWorks Executive Committee held a round-table discussion Tuesday at the Missouri Career Center in Columbia to discuss the project’s success with Talent. The report covered the results from January 1999 through June 2003.
The program reported a total enrollment of 412 people. Of those, 91 percent entered the work force and 72 percent maintained employment for at least six months. Nationally, an average of 65 percent of welfare-to-work participants enter the work force, with 62 percent keeping their jobs for at least six months.
“What we try to create is a ‘no-wrong-door’ approach,” BooneWorks Executive Director Gary Taylor said. “Someone can go into an agency and say, ‘Here are the issues I have.’ That agency does an initial assessment of that person’s needs and sends them to the ultimate door they want to go through.”
Taylor said an Internet system set up to manage clients helps ensure that people do not get lost in piles of paperwork. When registering with one agency, a client’s information is automatically entered into a system that can be accessed by any other agency the client uses. For example, when recipients apply for food stamps they then can go to the housing assistance agency and have their information quickly accessed.
Russell Doumas, president of Advent Enterprises, a nonprofit employment center, said clients face numerous barriers such as transportation, food, child care and housing.
“The list got so overwhelming, unless they had an advocate to help them negotiate through that and put all the services together, they didn’t even know where to start,” Doumas said.
“These are often folks with kids who are putting all their energy into a basic necessity level that is below the level of working: Where do I sleep tonight? Where do I get food for the kids tonight? How do I keep my utilities on?” Talent said.
BooneWorks officials also said that focus groups, made up of potential employers and potential employees, have helped directors better understand client needs. These discussions try to get to the bottom of what keeps a person from going to work and what employers are looking for in potential workers.
The program also has benefited from involvement by businesses. The first training program provided by BooneWorks — floor installation — was chosen because the business community said that particular skill was needed.
“When the community stops looking at these folks that are being helped as this terrible problem that they can’t figure out and starts saying, ‘That’s where we help people who need health care, that’s our community health center,’ the disadvantaged stop being invisible and something that was previously thought of as a negative can now be thought of as a positive,” Talent said.