Courtney Fur came to Southeast Community Services ready to make a change. She wanted more opportunities and a more stable economic footing. Looking for a career and a way to make her money work for her, she found an organization in the midst of its own transformation – and increasingly focused on supporting the transformation of people like her.
|Southeast Community Services staff focus on increasing both clients' income and assets.|
But transformation, for individuals, organizations and communities is not an easy process. Courtney has found long-term help for her long-term goals at Southeast.
“They motivated me to keep going and to not let anything stop me,” says Courtney. “It made me really want to succeed in life.”
As Southeast’s staff helped Courtney discover a career, invest in a home and increase her credit score, they were also shifting their own focus. Instead of its traditional role of providing residents with episodic emergency assistance, Southeast adopted the Center for Working Families model in 2008 to help residents strengthen their overall economic viability. The model has also afforded Southeast the opportunity to create new employment and training programs that match both resident and community needs.
The Center of Success
The Center for Working Families model, championed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, offers a critically different approach to economic success for six local agencies. Supported locally by Local Initiatives Support Corporation-Indianapolis (LISC) and The Indianapolis Foundation, a CICF affiliate, the Center for Working Families model aims to help community groups move beyond their traditional services of emergency assistance for utilities, rent and other expenses. Instead, families and individuals are offered wrap-around services that provide a broader range of economic supports designed to address a host of challenges and ultimately foster self-sufficiency.
Southeast Community Services staff offer three core services to clients – employment services, income supports counseling and financial coaching. These programs are designed to meet the needs of a community that faces many economic challenges. Only 64 percent of area residents over 16 years old are in the labor force. Only 11 percent have a Bachelor degree or higher, and 31 percent do not have a high school diploma or GED certificate.
These factors, in addition to the challenges presented by the current economy, led Southeast Community Services to adopt the Center for Working Families approach throughout all of its programs.
“Everyone who walks in the door for our services, from youth programs to the computer lab, has to go through orientation and meet with all of our coaches,” says Terri Garcia, Southeast Community Services Executive Director. “And our orientations are full, we have to turn people away, so they’re all getting to hear about the opportunity.”
Striking A Match
The Center for Working Families approach has provided a springboard for Southeast Community Services, allowing the group to creatively match employment training and matching with existing community needs.
|From GED preparation and computer training to green jobs training, Southeast Community Services provides relevant job training to area residents.|
With the support of local and federal funds, Southeast offers clients a brownfields remediation skills program. A brownfield site is land previously used for industrial or commercial purposes that has a low concentration of pollution or hazardous waste. Indianapolis has many locations that fit this definition, meaning that local construction companies have a need for staff trained to make the land safe for reuse.
In addition to meeting a community challenge, Southeast’s “green jobs” efforts also address a specific need: Finding stable jobs for ex-offenders, who represent almost one-third of their clients. To address the needs of recently released male offenders, the agency has also developed a partnership with Public Advocates in Community Re-Entry (PACE). Southeast provides job-finding services while PACE mentors ex-offenders. The group is seeking additional funds that could launch a similar program for women who have been incarcerated.
From green jobs to ex-offenders, Southeast works to address long-term community needs while providing the ongoing support and accountability that helped Courtney Fur succeed. The organization has added staff to their GED and job skills programs to address both the low graduation rates in the area and the fact that many residents with diplomas still have low literacy skills. Ultimately, though, the group relies on holding both staff and clients to one crucial standard – a commitment to transformation.
“Even if someone comes in for an ‘emergency’, clients know that this isn’t a place to just come and receive,” says Garcia. “We’re able to work with someone more, find out what’s going on, go a little deeper and then let them decide if they’re really ready to make a change in their lives.”
More about the Centers for Working Families in Indianapolis.
In addition to support from The Indianapolis Foundation, Southeast Community Services has received support from The Efromyson Family Family Fund, The Glick Fund, The Summer Youth Program Fund, The Central Indiana Senior Fund and The Women's Fund of Central Indiana.
Photos courtesy of Southeast Community Services.