A Helping Hand For Those In Need

Baltimore Co. Using New Web Tool To Find Jobs, Emergency Assistance

July 05, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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The woman had survived cancer but lost her job. That is what she was hoping to replace when she reached out to the Eastpoint Workforce Development Center in Essex for help.

But a counselor there learned that the woman was living in her car and immediately found a shelter bed for her. Then he was able to guide her to medical and prescription assistance.

Credit A Helping Hand in Hard Times, a new Web tool that is helping Baltimore County staff and job-seekers locate a wide range of emergency assistance.

"We went on the Web tool to get a roof over her head, and then we helped her find a job," said Leo Martinelli, manager of the Eastpoint center. "This [Web] site is a centralized resource that is a tremendous help for staff as well as the end user.

"You don't have to go from one bureaucracy to another," he said. "This tool connects to the service quicker and more accurately."

Helping Hand, available on the county's Web site at www.baltimorecountymd.gov, provides links to dozens of agencies that can handle everything from animal rescue to zoning problems.

In the month since the site debuted, staff members at the two county work force development centers say it has proved invaluable as more residents lose their jobs and face multiple crises as a result.

"This is an instrument which all of us can easily access," said Barry F. Williams, director of the county's Office of Workforce Development. "It is one-stop shopping. My staff will help people go onto the site and call the agency needed right then and there.

"We have people coming into our centers with multiple needs," Williams said. "They are dealing with health care issues and worrying about foreclosure. My staff are the helpers on the front lines with unemployment, but they are not housing specialists and they know little about medical issues."

The Eastpoint and Hunt Valley centers are well versed in employment issues. Counselors can help job-seekers apply for unemployment insurance and upgrade computer skills and interview techniques. They assist with resume-writing and electronic filing to a prospective employer. But theirs is not the agency that can prevent a utility cutoff or process requests for food stamps.

The Web tool, launched May 28, has attracted more than 1,400 viewers.

"The site is well-organized and easy to search by topic or area of interest," said Janis Dellman, a clinical social worker at Eastpoint. "I don't know all the places to find help. This site puts all the services in one place and removes barriers so that job-seekers can use our services to the full benefit."

Anne Pence, a career specialist at Eastpoint, said, "Before this, I would have to sift through a drawerful of materials and then not know if what I found was up to date."

The Eastpoint center sees about 120 visitors a day. With a staff of 33, it offers free counseling, occupational training, numerous classes and access to more than 30 computers.

Unemployment is lasting longer and causing people to "spend down the family assets to meet basic needs," Martinelli said. "This Web tool gives us another avenue to serve our visitors' needs and maybe circumvent the crises."

Baltimore County, which is seeing double the number of visitors this year at both centers, plans to open a third in Randallstown early next year, Williams said.

"We are trying to reintroduce people to the job search, which has changed dramatically," Martinelli said. "The toughest job you will ever have is looking for a job."

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