Hope and Opportunity Bloom in Chicago's "Job's Desert"
CHICAGO –On Friday, November 8th, nearly 100 friends, family, community leaders, and business partners joined the Greater West Town Community Development Project (GWTP) in recognizing and celebrating the grit, determination, and achievements of job seekers, and the programs that serve them, in Chicago’s most economically distressed communities. The twenty-one local residents of Class 48 graduated with industry-recognized certification in Shipping and Receiving, joining more than 850 Shipping and Receiving Training Program alumni who have earned their occupational skills certificates since 1996. Since the inception of the program, over 88% of GWTP’s graduates have been placed in training-related, career-track employment.
An “Oasis” of Hope and Opportunity in the “Jobs Desert”
Recently, the Chicago Tribune depicted Chicago’s struggling west and south sides as a “scorching jobs desert.” The newspaper called for creative strategies to overcome the chronic challenges to employment faced by residents in these communities: A life in poverty, past incarceration, lack of a high school education, or the need to acquire new skills. GWTP has proven that community-based vocational training can plant hope and reap real opportunities for residents of these struggling neighborhoods. The success of GWTP’s vocational training programs shows that community residents with proper support can overcome even these daunting barriers. Over 30% of program graduates have been ex-offenders, 40% were non-high school graduates, and 100% were low-income and unemployed.
The effectiveness of Greater West Town’s programs is rooted in their “Community-Business Partnership” strategy. At Friday’s celebration, Employer-Partner Jimmy Marks of Bird-X remarked on the benefits of the Community-Business Partnership in his address to the graduates, noting “Shipping and Receiving gets more and more complicated every day. To be able to have people, like these students, come in with the skills already in hand is just wonderful.” Bird-X has been a GWTP Employer-Partner for over 7 years.
Mr. Marks was joined on Friday by other GWTP Employer-Partner Steering Committee members Scot Hanson of Chicago Scenic and Brian Hofer from Keystone Aniline. GWTP works with local business partners to help design and deliver state-of-the-art training that leads to quality jobs for neighborhood residents, while providing their companies with the quality workforce they need to succeed, grow, and expand employment opportunities for community residents.
West Town Academy: Creating Educational and Economic Opportunity in the
Face of the High School Dropout Crisis
On June 21, 2013, the Greater West Town’s West Town Academy (WTA) alternative high school celebrated its 15th commencement ceremony at the Alpha and Omega Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park. Ninety-three former high school dropouts received their diplomas, the largest graduating class in the school’s history.
Lisa Hampton, the Resource Administrator for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ), served as the commencement speaker. Over the past year, the WTA and IDJJ have worked closely together to implement GWTP’s GREAT (Gaining Re-integration through Education, Advocacy and Training) Opportunities program, which provides education, training and support services to youth and young adults involved with the juvenile justice system. GWTP was one of only 21 agencies in the country, and the only one in Illinois, to receive a $1.5 million dollar grant to implement the program, which engages at-risk youth in academics, service learning, and career preparation for successful re-integration and involvement with their communities.
The Class of 2013 exemplifies the success of our community-based and community-driven strategy to expand educational and economic opportunity for at-risk youth and the communities in which they live.
For decades, Chicago’s public schools have struggled to retain, educate and graduate young people of color, particularly African American and Latino males. The high school dropout crisis is complex, chronic and ongoing, and the consequences for individuals, families and communities are enormous. In GWTP’s focus service areas of the Near West Side, Humboldt Park, Garfield Park and Austin, less than half of our young people complete high school in 4 years. Less than half of our young people have the educational preparation needed to succeed in life. Chicago Public Schools’ high schools in these neighborhoods all suffer from four-year dropout rates of 50%-60%.
AN EFFECTIVE COMMUNITY RESPONSE: THE WEST TOWN ACADEMY
WTA enrolls former Chicago Public Schools drop-outs ages 17-21 and helps our at-risk young people get a fresh start in life by providing them with a second chance to earn a high school diploma. Since Greater West Town moved into its state-of-the-art Community Career Training & Economic Development Center at 500 N. Sacramento Blvd in the Fall of 2010, our capacity to serve high school dropouts in these disadvantaged communities has greatly expanded. The West Town Academy Class of 2011 was 67; in 2012, the graduating class grew by leaps and bounds to a then-historic high of 92. This year we topped that, with projections of up to 100 students graduating by years' end. WTA will eventually enroll 200 former high school dropouts per year.
Pledges Support for Effective Job Training
Chicago – With critical funding for job training threatened by steep Congressional budget cuts, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin visited Greater West Town Community Development Project’s (GWTP) Community Career Training and Economic Development Center, to call for continued public investment for effective programs.
Senator Durbin met and thanked two local employers, Dave Bochniak of Chicago Booth Manufacturing and James Marks of Bird-X, Inc. for their support and participation in GWTP's Community-Business Job Training Partnership. “These programs work. By actively involving employers, who guide the curriculum to meet the needs of their marketplace, this is a true ‘job creation engine,’” noted Durbin.
Twenty-seventh ward alderman, Walter Burnett, echoed the Senator’s sentiments. “I have supported this organization for many years, going back their old [Fulton Street] location, because I know these programs are effective. I’ve seen many graduates hired by good local companies, which of course is a win-win for our whole community.”
GWTP’s track record is impressive. Throughout the deep recession, during which GWTP’s inner-city communities witnessed a 150% increase in unemployment, the agency kept hope alive, placing over 87% of vocational training graduates in local, living-wage earning jobs. “The credit goes to the community-business partnership model,” stresses GWTP Executive Director Bill Leavy. “We succeed by serving as the link between disadvantaged community residents who need jobs and local employers who require a skilled workforce.”
In addition to GWTP’s Woodworking and Solid Surface Manufacturing and Shipping and Receiving training programs, Senator Durbin and Alderman Burnett visited the West Town Academy (WTA), the agency’s alternative high school for Chicago Public School dropouts. “The dropout crisis and the unemployment crisis are interrelated,” noted WTA principal, Keisha Davis-Johnson. “Without earning at least a high school diploma, followed by post-secondary education or certified job training, one cannot hope to compete in today’s global economy.”