Story By Dorothy Markulis
Community Works Connection, a division of OPEN M, is giving those living in poverty a road map to a better life.
Last November, OPEN M established a new program to give those in poverty a way out, through full employment: Community Works Connection.
“There are huge obstacles,” CWC Project Director Bob Titus explained.
Often coming from multi-generational poverty, clients in the project have no concept of how to get and retain full-time employment.
“We have to change their stinkin’ thinkin’,” Titus said. “We have to change their poverty mentality.”
Clients begin CWC after they have participated in OPEN M’s “Bridges Out of Poverty” program.
The program allows participants to reflect on and examine their lives and work toward a more self-sufficient future.
“They got through the program,” Titus explained, “then they said okay, I’m going to change my life. What’s next?”
According to Titus, that’s where the vision of OPEN M’s CEO Dottie Achmoody comes into view.
“Our main objective is to get people off public assistance,” Achmoody said. “We really needed to go beyond and put something in place with the employers.”
Achmoody said the Bridges program gave participants resources and a way to cross the barriers.
“However, it was not the specific help they needed to land a job,” Achmoody added. “Some did get jobs but not that many.”
Achmoody has been with OPEN M for 18 years, 10 of those years as CEO. Three years ago, she said her ministry focus changed after reading a book by Dave Phillips – “Why Don’t They Just Get A Job.”
The book detailed the obstacles those in poverty face trying to get into the job market and introduced the Cincinnati Works program.
Based on the Cincinnati Works mentoring program, OPEN M started doing its own project to help candidates to full employment.
In September 2014, OPEN M took it a step further and hired Titus to direct the Community Works Connection.
“We’re very pleased with the program,” Achmoody said. “Job seekers get 40 hours of classroom instruction. They hear different speakers from the community, bankers. The main focus is financial literacy: how to manage money.”
Titus said CWC has been hugely successful.
“We have 43 people working out of 52 who are qualified and we have 19 employers working with us,” Titus related.
The CWC tackles the obstacles those hoping to enter the workplace face.
“Most of them do not have a driver’s license. Skills are a big problem. We’ll work with them, send them to a trade school if we need to,” Titus explained. “Eight out of 10 need transportation.”
Mentoring also is a major component of the program.
“We’re always looking for mentors. Most of our participants have no support system. They never have. We need someone to help them, one on one,” Titus said.
“And we’re always looking for core employers,” he added. “Employers who believe in what we do.”
If Titus has one regret about the program, it’s this:
“I did not have enough knowledge about poverty and its obstacles.”
And what is his greatest joy in the program?
“When somebody gets a job. That’s when we do the happy dance,” Titus said enthusiastically.
“Our participants start out by reflecting on and examining their lives,”
Achmoody explained. “They they work toward a more self-sufficient future.”
Achmoody said there is just one negative with CWC, but she really hates to label it a negative.
“We’ve had such success at such a quick pace that we need more funding,” Achmoody explains. “As the program grows, there’s added expense.”
Added expense which includes van transportation, training and bus passes for new job holders.
She said “God has provided” and many philanthropists are raising money for the program but there is still a critical need.
Anyone wishing to donate or volunteer may call OPEN M at 330-434-0110 or visit the website: www.openm.org.
Marthia Rieves, a May graduate of the CWC program, said she is very grateful for the instruction she received. She said she had no idea how much she didn’t know about searching for and keeping a job.
“They crammed so much in one week,” Rieves said. “And what they said actually works.”
Rieves, 41, said she worked at low-paying jobs since she was 15, but she did not have the skills she needed to get and hold a good full-time job.
“I would just be overwhelmed,” she said.
She said they taught her how to use a computer, how to write a resume, how to behave in the work place.
“They gave us the tools to use,” she said.
And now, she’s employee of the month at her new job at Ascot Valley Foods. The job she got one week after graduating from the CWC program.
“I’ve worked all my life but I’ve never been employee of the month before,” she exclaimed.
Another grateful graduate of the CWC is Fred Diener.
Diener, 41, said he had participated in many job programs over the past 17 years but never one is as life changing as CWC.
“They said ‘We can get you a job,’ and I said ‘Yeah, right,’” Diener remembered.
Diener is now employed with Thomas Limousine and very happy in his work.
“I love it here. They treat me like family,” he explained.
He said without the CWC training he would never have gotten the job.
“They trained me in finances, how to interview, how to search for jobs. They helped me with my resume,” he said.
Diener remarked that a really helpful component of the CWC training was the input of outside companies’ administrators who critiqued resumes and helped him with the interviewing process.
“And now, I have the best job I ever had,” Diener said.
Donny Venham, personnel director for T.L. Worldwide Transportation (formerly known as Thomas Limousine) has been placing workers from CWC since its inception.
“I can happily say we have a half-dozen CWC graduates working with us,” Venham said.
Venham said Titus worked with him to select candidates for his company.
“He makes sure the employee is a potential fit,” Venham said.
Venham said his company is a family-run operation.
“We’re giving them an opportunity; not just a job,” he added. “I’m not looking for an employee, I’m looking for a distant cousin – a part of the family.”
Erin Dabney, office manager for Ascot Valley Foods, has hired six graduates of the CWC program.
“They are fantastic workers. The program finds us the greatest employees,” Dabney said.
She said she was particularly proud of Rieves, Ascot’s employee of the month.
“She is amazing. She always wants to learn more. We love her,” Dabney said.
She said she was grateful that Titus reached out to her to assist CWC graduates.
“We gave it a shot and it has really worked out. We’ve been really fortunate in getting people who really want to work,” she added.
She said Ascot Valley Foods was growing very fast and she was looking to include more CWC workers in that growth.
It appears Titus and Achmoody have more happy dances in their future.
About OPEN M
OPEN M (Opportunity Parish Ecumenical Neighborhood Ministry) has been around in one form or another since it was founded in 1968 by four Akron churches to assist those in need, primarily in Akron’s Opportunity Park neighborhood. Since then the name has changed, to reflect its wider, county-wide goals, to Opportunity for People Everywhere in Need Ministry. OPEN M’s stated mission is to build bridge out of poverty by fostering health, wellness and nutrition for the body, education for the mind; and hope, joy and spiritual growth for the soul. Its vision is to break the cycle of poverty and improve the health of the community, one family at a time.
For more information: Call OPEN M at 330-434-0110 or visit the website: www.openm.org.