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Unique Program Uses Stimulus Dollars To Help People Get Work

The recession has taken a huge toll on the job market - hundreds of thousands of Ohioans became unemployed. A local agency is using stimulus dollars to help those out of work gain new skills to help them find jobs in the community. WOSU has this report in its series called Following the Stimulus Money.

Fifteen men and women smartly dressed in business attire are learning about resumes. They're part of Employment Plus, a five-week work development program offered through social service agency - Impact Community Action.

"We are basically teaching all of the people who are going through this program, about 15, all of the skills that they need to be employment ready," Bo Chilton said.

Chilton is Impact's chief executive officer. The agency may be best known for its Home Energy Assistance Program or HEAP, but it offers a number of other services. Impact received more than $13 million dollars in multiple stimulus grants. While most of the money will go to HEAP. About $1 million was set aside for Employment Plus.

"We put that money right to use for job creation, and the focus, the main focus of our programming with those dollars, is about helping other people get jobs," Chilton said.

Impact has just finished its third Employment Plus cycle. The cycle is five weeks of instruction in basic computer skills, job searching techniques and interviewing. Everyone who goes through the program gets $1,200 to help cover bills while they're in classes. The agency also tries to find the students jobs, and it offers employers an incentive.

"We will match their salary and wages 50 percent for 90 days. So, if someone gets a job making $14 an hour, we'll pay $7 of that for up to 90 days, so it helps our placement rate," Chilton said.

Of the 30 people who took the first two sessions, about half have found jobs. Chilton hopes to expand the program, noting nearly 200 people sit on a waiting list.

One of the job coaches is Edith James. She was hired with stimulus funds to help people find work.

"So they feel much better about approaching an employer with a bag in hand, a resume in hand and dressed for success," James said.

31-year-old Tavena Thomas, who lives on the city's East Side, is one of those who has landed work after finishing classes in December. She just started a medical billing job in Dublin.

Thomas, as cheery as the yellow in her blouse, said she didn't always have the best outlook. Last year, a new job brought her to Columbus from her hometown of Lima, but nine months later she was laid off. When Thomas started the job program she was on the verge of homelessness.

"I came in on one of the attitudes, I don't care. I'm just in a class. I don't have to talk to anybody, just sit here. But actually it taught me more than just going out and looking for a job. It taught me to get motivated on a day to day basis. I'm not used to dressing up, but once I got in that class I felt good about myself," Thomas said.

Thomas said one of the most important things she learned was how to create an effective resume. And she said the program helped her find the Tavena Thomas she once lost.

"You gotta start from the bottom and work your way up, and I'm doing that as we speak. I was one, that when I came here I was on the verge of not having anywhere to live. And now I'm OK, my rent's paid, gotta job and I'm happy," Thomas said.