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People living near or below the poverty line face a number of challenges that can hinder their ability to maintain successful employment. A new program of The Resource Center is helping local residents to address those challenges.
The program is called SAFER, which stands for Supporting and Facilitating Employee Retention. It is funded through an Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) grant being administered by the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County.
SAFER is intended to support people living in ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) households to maintain successful employment. The main goals are to assist employees and connect them to the services they need; this, in turn, will help increase retention and the overall success of the businesses involved.
SAFER uses the “Bridges out of Poverty” and “Working Bridges” programs to build an employer collaborative dedicated to improving workplace productivity, retention, advancement, financial stability, and well-being. Interventions revolve around 10 primary factors identified as the common barriers to successful employment: personal financial emergencies, affordable housing, child care, transportation, health insurance, work benefits, education, legal concerns, behavioral health, and the benefits cliff – the point where people see a reduction in their public assistance because their household earnings have increased, but not to a level where they can achieve self-sufficiency.
Another primary goal of SAFER is to educate business owners about the challenges experienced by their employees living in poverty. “We want to help them develop an understanding of the challenges their employees are faced with every day and teach them strategies so they can support those employees,” said Terri Johnson, The Resource Center’s Director of Employment and Community-Based Services, who helps to oversee the SAFER program.
The program is being implemented by three TRC employees: Beth Jermain, Support Option Administrator; CodyAnne Chambers, Employment Facilitator; and Chris Anderson, Marketing and Ecommerce/Internet Manager. They visit Jamestown-area businesses to promote SAFER and educate employees about the program. Beth and CodyAnne work directly with employees and serve as each worker’s Personal Success Coach. Chris is the Business Coach/Planner. Once a business signs up to participate, he works with the employer to develop a business plan and establish a baseline set of data so TRC can demonstrate improvement in retention at the end of the program.
The SAFER program is a natural fit for The Resource Center. One of TRC’s main goals when it was established 60 years ago was to provide employment and work training opportunities to people with intellectual disabilities. Since 1988 TRC has operated a Supported Employment Program that assists people with disabilities in finding and maintaining jobs in the community. Many of the employment barriers faced by people with disabilities are similar to people who live in poverty.
SAFER project organizers set targets of having working relationships with up to 10 businesses and assisting up to 75 people. Seven businesses have signed up so far, and 45 people are being assisted. The businesses that currently are participating in SAFER are Artone, Fancher Chair, Heritage Ministries, I-86 Truck Repair, Lake View Cemetery Association, Lutheran Jamestown, and UPMC Chautauqua. Through the SAFER program The Resource Center also is collaborating with other organizations that received ESPRI grants, including the Mental Health Association and the YWCA of Jamestown.
The SAFER program began last summer, and some successes already have occurred in the lives of people enrolled in the program.
“Beth Jermain and the SAFER program have been a tremendous help to me and my family,” said one woman. “I am an independent, single, working parent. I have worked two, sometimes three jobs at a time to make ends meet, but sometimes that’s not enough. Asking for help is not something I am accustomed to, nor is it easy for me to do.”
The woman, who was experiencing a financial crisis, saw information about the SAFER program at her workplace and decided to check into it. “I left my appointment in tears of relief. Not only did they help with my immediate crisis, Beth also introduced me to other avenues to not only avoid a repeat pf the crisis, but ways to better myself financially, educationally and more. I know they have also helped many of my co-workers as well. This is a wonderful program for our community!”
SAFER also paid the fee so the woman could attend a class for first-time home buyers that was put on by CHRIC (Chautauqua Home Rehabilitation & Improvement Corp.).
Employers also are grateful for the benefits the SAFER program brings.
“The SAFER program has been an excellent resource for our employees,” said Nicole Spontaneo, Accounting and Human Resources Specialist at Artone. “Our HR department is excited because the program offers employees a way to obtain information regarding non-work-related concerns that help to alleviate additional stresses while at work. It has been great to be able to refer them to the SAFER program.”
Others have noticed the positive impact the SAFER program is having. Amy Rohler, the United Way’s Executive Director, shared some ESPRI success stories with New York State officials. They singled out a story of a person was aided by SAFER.
“I am amazed at the depth and scope of services you offer vulnerable populations in Jamestown. So often when individuals are in need, they receive some help but are left to manage the rest,” Karen Kirstein of the NYS Office of Children & Family Services told Amy. Karen cited someone who needed assistance with transportation. “I loved reading how the SAFER program helped the woman,” she said. “It sounds minor – getting to work on weekends when public transportation is unavailable – but it is the barrier which probably would have eliminated her ability to work. I really like how help is not a one-stop deal in the SAFER program – that people are helped over time, with various layers of challenges, until the path is cleared.”
For their part, TRC officials are pleased with how the program has been going.
“The SAFER program has been a fantastic opportunity to support people in employment that are having everyday struggles,” Terri said. “Giving them a little extra support to help them deal with issues outside of work can help them focus on work when they are at work and not have to worry about other things, because the Success Coaches can help them mitigate barriers.”
Jamestown-area employers interested in learning more about SAFER may contact Beth at 661-1557. In addition, The Resource Center and the SAFER program plan to sponsor a Bridges Out of Poverty training that the United Way will conduct in May. Representatives of businesses that are involved in the SAFER program will be able to attend, as will officials from other businesses that may want to enroll in the program.