Demonstrating how a common goal can unite a diverse group of entities to achieve measureable positive change in a community, the “Put East Chicago Back to Work” initiative is a true plan of action.
“Unemployment is all around us, and many people are talking about the big picture,” Elliot Thostesen, Ivy Tech Community College Northwest Strategic Planner, said. “This particular initiative is a unique collaboration of people who agreed from the onset that there has been enough talk. If we start with small changes like creating opportunities to get people re-engaged in the employment process, we can then change outcomes for the larger community.”
The seeds of a workforce development program were planted when a positive youth development initiative, Tri-City Alternative Actions Program (TCAAP), was started at East Chicago’s Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church in 2006, according to Pastor Darnell Johnson, founder of the Holistic Community Coalition.
“At that time our focus was on the kids, they were the priority” he explained. “The Holistic Community Coalition’s mission has always been to build community viability and advocate for social reform, which includes positive youth development. But, with several organizations offering services for the at-risk youth population and very little being done to address the issues that sustain such dysfunction, we felt by addressing workforce development, we could reduce some of the stress placed on the youth that live amidst hardships resulting from their parents and guardians being unemployed, or underemployed.”
Ultimately, the goal of the Holistic Community Coalition is to provide comprehensive resources for a better quality life. Resources that help make families stronger so the community can thrive.
“I started having conversations with people about realistic goals, the things we could actually deliver,” he said. “From the very beginning, everyone on board was very hands-on, knowing that there was a level of expectation on the entire team to build up trust in the community. Theses people have been told so many times that programs would be available, but they never materialized. That’s why I’m so excited by the significant contributions from all our partners.”
“About two-and-a-half years ago I was attending a community event when I first considered how the college could be more proactive in workforce training,” Louie Gonzalez, Ivy Tech Foundations of East Chicago De LaGarza campus Vice Chancellor, said. “We know what education can do – it opens doors. Even so, when people are worrying about putting food on the table and paying next month’s rent, it’s not usually a priority. However, when you show them that a short-term program can actually lead to a job, they get excited and seize the opportunity.”
Just as the Foundations of East Chicago and Legacy Foundation sponsored the youth program, they also provided funding for the Holistic Community Coalition’s workforce development program in partnership with Ivy Tech’s Corporate College.
“Four major components come together so this initiative can make a difference in the community,” Thostesen explained. “A source of funding, case management which is handled by the lead agency (the Holistic Community Coalition), the identification of job needs through corporate partnerships and training which is customized by Ivy Tech.”
Additional partners include Lake County Corrections, Indiana Plan, North Township Trustees, Disposal Alternative Organization and Mission of Jesus Christ. Two examples of career paths aligned by the identification of a need and the development of a corresponding training program include local construction crews and nursing aides.
“As of now, we’re projected to exceed our first year goal in just an 8-month cycle opposed to a full 12 months with 125 people trained and employed in 2012,” Thostesen said. “The success stems from giving the people that influence and decide a voice from the very onset. When you bring all of the key components together in one room, you have a far greater understanding of the aim and goal than you do with just one or two pieces of the puzzle. That’s how change starts, and it’s a model that’s portable to any community.”
“In my 30 years as an educator, I believe this is the most exciting project I have worked on,” Gonzalez said. “This initiative has evolved quite a bit over the last year. It created it’s own energy based on the fact that when we are faced with a big problem we have very little impact on our own, but when we join forces and work together as one, we can achieve a common goal over a period of time.”
“Education and training plus jobs and employers are the major engines that drive the overall viability of a community,” Pastor Johnson added.
“We have a philosophy called the A B C’s of employment – A job, a Better job, a Career and that’s the longitudinal focus we have when assisting a program participant. When an applicant comes into the program, we evaluate their lifestyle and their life skills. We want them to be successful. That’s what brings stability to families who then take pride in their neighborhood and their community. That’s why we’re looking forward to the promise of even more new career paths for 2013.”
According to Pastor Johnson, it was once said, “that the true test of a person is not measured by their disposition during a season of calm, but rather by their determination during the season of crisis.”
The very same wisdom can be applied to the college training and education needed to be successful in today’s workforce in light of record unemployment in our nation. While there’s a new path that’s never been tried before – one that requires the constant collaboration of many entities in order to be successful – early results attest to the determination of this particular group’s enthusiastic partners.