Balto. Co. program offers hope for jobs Family Investment targets 'poor women with children' as clients

December 13, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A few months ago, Sharon Kennedy's life depended on a monthly welfare check. Yesterday, as Baltimore County celebrated a new program designed to help welfare recipients find jobs, she was an early example of success.

Kennedy, 25, the mother of two young girls, is a full-time contractual clerk for the Department of Social Services and works two days a week in its new employment office in Towson.

"There was a time when I just wanted to give up," she said, explaining that being rejected from job after job wore her out. "When you're home all day, that's all you want to do."

A ribbon-cutting yesterday at the Investment Building in Towson marked the formal opening of the first of five county employment offices for people on "temporary cash assistance."

Others are to follow quickly in Essex, Dundalk, Reisterstown and Catonsville.

The target group is different than at other employment offices the county runs, said social services director Camille B. Wheeler.

"Our focus is poor women with children," Wheeler said.

Women, especially single mothers, receive the bulk of the county's cash assistance, and a large number need help with day care and health insurance even after they begin working.

Many have worked before and have some skills but need help preparing a resume and finding openings.

"We look at this as a first step," said Barbara Gradet, assistant director of the Family Investment Program.

She said many of the program's clients aren't ready to search for jobs on their own.

The centers have computers for doing resumes and checking the state's job listings, a television for reviewing videotapes on job search skills, a telephone bank and counselors. The county is using $263,000 saved from declining welfare rolls to pay for the centers.

In the first year of national welfare reform, county social services officials say, they have placed 1,276 people in jobs that pay $6.15 to $20 an hour. Seventy-seven percent have kept their jobs, helping the welfare caseload drop 28 percent over that period.

The Social Services Department also has hired some former welfare recipients, and several are helping to set up and staff the new center.

Stephen Hall, 31, of Woodlawn helped set up the center's computers and is another example of the program's early successes.

Hall, who is raising three daughters, was laid off from a supervisory security job and exhausted unemployment benefits while taking a computer technician course at Dundalk Community College. He applied for welfare to tide him over until he could get a job, but found the course certificate alone wasn't enough, especially with no car to use on the job.

An internship in the Social Services Department's computer service office led to a full-time job when a vacancy occurred.

"This gives me an option to use my skills to help those who helped me," Hall said.

Kennedy, who lives near Parkville, said she also has learned a lot on the job.

"I'm not the only one with problems," she said. "Even people who work have problems."

"I would love to stay with [the department]," she said, enthusiastic now about helping people the way she was helped.

Pub Date: 12/13/97

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