Employment First program celebrates first anniversary in Summit County | SummitDaily.com

Employment First program celebrates first anniversary in Summit County

Jack Queen

Employment First, a federally funded program that provides job-seeking assistance to people receiving food assistance, has marked its first anniversary in Summit County. Since the Human Services department initiated the program in November of last year, it has provided more than 225 local adults with career-building classes and connected dozens with “workfare” opportunities that allow them to build workplace experience while giving back to the community.

Food assistance programs generally require recipients to have jobs, but that can be difficult for people in dire financial straits who need immediate help with their grocery bills. Employment First lowers that barrier by allowing individuals to fulfill their job obligation by attending regular classes that teach them resume-building, interviewing and job-hunting skills through the Colorado Workforce Center in Frisco.

To maximize the effectiveness of those classes, Employment First started a mentorship pilot program in August that gives participants individualized, one-on-one support and guidance.

The program also pairs individuals with local nonprofits and government agencies, where they can work in unpaid positions in order to build experience and professional references. Human Services seeks to tailor those positions to the interests and skills of participants with the hope that they can act as career pathways.

“While you’re trying to find a job, the program closes that employment gap,” said Summit County Employment First coordinator Janet Wolfson. “You can put that work on your resume, build references and figure out if (that field) is something you’re interested in.”

So far, individuals have been placed in such workfare positions at the Summit County Climbing Gym, Advocates for Victims of Sexual Assault, the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) and the county’s Senior Center.

“The Community and Senior Center has had several workfare participants in our kitchen,” the center’s manager, Lorie Williams said. “We have loved having them in our facility. They’ve been a huge help to us in our daily operations, and they’ve learned some great job skills in the process.”

“Just within its first year, Employment First has exceeded our expectations in so many ways,” Summit County Economic Security Programs manager Michael Whitaker said. “Participants have really invested themselves and taken full advantage of the program, while local businesses and community leaders have stepped forward as enthusiastic partners.”

Over the course of its first year, the program has also been rolled into the Summit County Jail, where it seeks to prepare inmates to more easily transition back into civilian life upon their release.

Employment First offers twice-monthly job skills classes at the jail, and also helps inmates apply for food assistance and health insurance through Health First Colorado, the state’s Medicaid program.

“This new partnership complements our existing efforts to reduce recidivism,” Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. “If you commit a crime in our community, you need to be held accountable. But we’re working together to help break the incarceration-poverty cycle by better preparing inmates to obtain meaningful employment when they leave the facility.”

Agape Outpost is also helping to ease the transition back into society by offering a sober living house to male offenders who don’t have housing after leaving the jail or don’t want to return to unhealthy living situations.

Human Services and the sheriff’s office are planning to expand the program by reaching out to employers who might be open to interviewing inmates before their release so they can start work immediately upon completion of their sentences.

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