Work Connections programs launched to help single parents find jobs

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:48

Newton - Project Self-Sufficiency has been providing support to low-income single parents, teen parents, two-parent families, and displaced homemakers of Sussex County, to connect with job training and employment for close to a quarter of a century. With its track record in helping county residents to achieve economic self-sufficiency by teaching new skills and brushing up on current jobs skills, and increasing workplace marketability, Project Self-Sufficiency was one of two locations in the state chosen by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development for the state’s “Work Connections” program, to further help single parents find work in challenging economic times. Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Harold J. Wirths, was one of a number of dignitaries present at Project Self-Sufficiency on Thursday, June 23, to announce the non-profit group’s receipt of a $750,000 Pilot and Demonstration Grant from the department, with Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funds. “I am honored to be here, it is one of the largest grants we’ve given out,” Wirths said. “It’s results that count, and this program gives results.” Wirths, who spent ten years on Sussex County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders, said, “I have witnessed first-hand the success of this wonderful organization. It has certainly lived up to its name in how it has helped single mothers hit by hard times to become self-sufficient, and support their families.” Two area women, Josephine Spagnuolo, and Linda Barry, were able to give their own first-hand testimonies about how Project Self-Sufficiency helped them with job training, and eventual employment. “With my life skills, I was feeling somewhat stuck,” Spagnuolo said. “We learned we could achieve the task placed before us, then a workforce externship, then the real work step. After several months, I was ecstatic to become employed by a well-known non-profit group.” “I didn’t know where to begin,” Barry said. She learned Word, Excel, and other software packages, then participated in an externship program at Sussex County Community College. In January 2011, Barry was hired as the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce Membership Services Coordinator. “It helped me tremendously, and showed me I had plenty to offer an employer,” Barry said. Freeholders Parker Space and Richard Vohden, as well as Newton Mayor Kristi Becker, were on hand to show commitment on the county and municipality levels for the program. Wirths gave a nod to Becker, who owns several businesses in the heart of Newton, including Cheddar Alley and Truffles. “It’s going to be the small business people who help us get to better economic times,” Wirths said. Wirths will be monitoring the program very carefully, and said, “People entering the employment market is steadying, and the biggest dignity you can give someone, is to give them a job.” Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director at Project Self-Sufficiency said, “Our program encompasses workplace training, family support, parenting skills childcare, counseling, and a host of other resources and services designed to assist the individual in achieving economic self-sufficiency.” The “Work Connections” Program will further tailor employment-training programs to match the needs of local employers, and assist program participants with childcare and other types of support. Case managers will be assigned to each participant to help them through the steps of the program. In addition to providing help to women, men and two-parent families in need will also be eligible to participate in the program. According to statistics provided by Project Self-Sufficiency, from 2001 through 2005, single parent households increased by 5 percent. These single parents typically are matched with the lowest paying jobs in the nation, receive minimal health benefits, and are not given access to employer-sponsored investment programs. More than half of these single parents and displaced homemakers do not have more than a high school education. Sussex County has experienced a rise in families qualifying for free and reduced lunches, WIC, food stamps, Medicaid, and New Jersey Family Healthcare insurance. Statistics also show there are approximately 5,000 households in the county earning less than $20,000 annually, and more than 15,000 families earning less than $60,000. Growth is expected in small sector business within Sussex County, as well as jobs in the medical field such as home health aides, medical secretaries, nursing aides, and registered nurses. The “Work Connections” grant will support training in areas where the growth is anticipated. “Everyone at Project Self-Sufficiency is excited about this new grant,” said Beverly Gordon, Chairwoman at Project Self-Sufficiency. “We hope everyone in the community is as excited as we are.”