A Lorain County collaborative made a WISE choice in modeling it’s anti-poverty initiative for women after an Oberlin program.
WISE stands for Women In Sustainable Employment and is run by Oberlin Community Services. The 40-hour program, which began in October, helps single mothers lift themselves out of poverty, said Cindy Andrews, Oberlin Community Services executive director.
On June 23, the United Way of Greater Lorain County announced that “WE3: Women Empowered, Educated, and Employed,” will share $300,000 annually to help poor women. WE3, modeled after WISE, is a collaborative of 10 groups overseen by Lorain County Community College and funded by the United Way.
Besides Oberlin Community Services and Oberlin College’s Bonner Center, the collaborative consists of the Elyria Public Library, Elyria Schools, Lorain Schools, the Lorain County Community Action Agency, Lorain County Job and Family Services, Lorain County JVS, the Lorain County Workforce Development Agency, and the Urban League of Lorain County.
WISE, which graduated all of the 14 women who enrolled, includes child care, domestic violence counseling, financial counseling, job training, and transportation. A second, similar program graduated all 12 women who enrolled.
Andrews told collaborative leaders during the announcement at the college that the graduation rate was “astounding” and “remarkable.” Classes were held Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons to accommodate clients’ schedules and rides were arranged for those needing transportation.
Andrews said several graduates have found work including jobs at Agrinomix, which provides equipment to the horticulture industry, General Plug & Manufacturing, Oberlin IGA, and in union apprenticeships.
Besides helping women find jobs, Andrews said the program helps them stay employed by having counselors continue to work with them after employment. Counselors help clients finding transportation to and from work and in getting childcare.
Andrews said some clients have overcome domestic violence and homelessness. They often work long hours while juggling work and family responsibilities to better themselves.
“We’re seeing hope in the eyes of these women and their children,” Andrews said. “These moms were tenacious in pursuing their new roles.”
That tenacity is desperately needed, said Roy Church, the college’s president. Despite economic improvements since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, Church said poverty is pervasive in Lorain County.
Citing U.S. Census Bureau statistics, Church said 37.7 percent of county families are headed by single mothers with incomes below the poverty level. Of the 116,705 county households, 38,820 — 33 percent — earn less than $35,000 per year.
The collaborative serves women living 200 percent below the federal poverty level. The poverty level for a family of four this year is $24,300, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
By having counselors work individually with clients, Church said the collaborative is designed to avoid duplicated services and “the ping-pong effect” in which women are bounced between agencies. He said the effort will be closely analyzed and data-driven with improvements made when needed.
“We want to minimize clients getting lost in the system,” said Church, who retires June 30 and will be succeeded by Marcia Ballinger.
Bill Harper, United Way of Greater Lorain County executive director, said his group’s board has been discussing how to form and fund the collaborative since 2011. Collaborative members will decide how the money is spent with the college distributing it.
Andrews said the money will be well spent and thanked the college and United Way. “Your support is truly changing lives for generations,” she said.
Contact Evan Goodenow at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Photos by Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Roy Church, Lorain County Community College president, speaks Thursday at a news conference.