Finding a good job — the surest path to middle class — can be a challenge, especially for those with one or more barriers to employment. For at-risk youth, refugees or people with disabilities or criminal involvement, it can be overwhelming. Several United Way agencies are lifting roadblocks and helping build pathways out of poverty.
One agency, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, is guiding some of Greater Cleveland’s inner-city teens in new directions and turning lives around. It targets the most at-risk students with multiple barriers.
Carol Rivchun, president and CEO of YOU, says its Career Coaches only take on youth at the lowest-performing high schools. These students are finding success — many for the first time.
“These kids have so many barriers, they feel bad about themselves,” says Rivchun. “We can’t give up on them.”
Indeed, YOU does not give up on them, and the results are promising.
“The secret to our success is the Career Coach,” explains Rivchun. “We have a full-time person in every school. It’s like having a second mother following up all the time.”
Students who go through the YOU program graduate at about 88 percent (far above the average 65 percent at Cleveland Public Schools), and 82 percent of them go on to further education or full-time jobs.
This summer, nearly 3,000 young people will get jobs or internships through YOU programs.
Another agency, Towards Employment, found jobs for 560 people last year, including 359 with criminal records. One in six Ohioans (or 16 percent of our available workforce) have criminal records, yet that past can be a significant barrier to employment.
United Way funds a community-based program for anyone with criminal involvement. The program helps participants build practical skills like being on time and working with others, as well as resume writing and interviewing for a job.
Upon completing the course, participants are guided into paid internships or training programs to earn some type of credential. Some go directly into a job.
“We also develop a pool of employers looking for people to fill their positions,” explains Jill Rizika, executive director. “We tell employers we want to send them good, prescreened and vetted candidates before they walk through the door. We consider employers to be our clients, too.”
A coach also follows individuals for six months to a year after he or she gets a job to continue support with job adjustment and career advancement.