Saturday, February 21, 2004

Urban League seeks money for program

Job counseling enrolls those out of prison

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

AVONDALE - A lack of money could mean the end of a successful job training program at the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati aimed at ex-offenders and hard-to-employ people.

The Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention program needs $500,000 to stay alive for another year. The 5-year-old employment program is in danger of being eliminated in April when its funding from the Empowerment Zone runs out.

The Urban League's $2.5 million annual budget has been hit hard this year because of dwindling contributions from its major donors. The nonprofit social service agency has had to slash six mid- and upper-level jobs from a staff of about 40.

Urban League officials said keeping the jobs program is critical.

"Who will be there to serve them and where do they go?" said Sterling Price, director of adult services at the Urban League. "If they get out and can't get an opportunity, they are more likely to commit a crime again."

Hamilton County has at least a dozen programs to help released inmates succeed. But Price said the Urban League has built a trusting relationship and reputation with ex-offenders.

Urban League officials boast a 92 percent job placement rate among those who attend the three-week course. Graduates have obtained jobs from employers from Metro bus service to Maisonette.

About 40 people are enrolled in the program - about 80 percent of whom have a criminal background.

Danny Payton served a prison term for burglary and enrolled in the Solid Opportunities program after his release in 1997. Payton now runs the Urban League's training program.

Payton said the program gave him a second chance. But if funding is cut in April, his job would likely be eliminated, too, he said.

"What am I to do?" Payton said. "I've had a stable job for the past four years. Maybe that will make a difference for the next employer, but you never know."

The job training program offers interview and computer training and classes that focus on values, self-esteem and even nutrition. Participants must dress in business attire when they attend classes.

A separate component of the program - called Man Made - incorporated a fatherhood class on being a responsible parent. Urban League officials said Man Made, which ended in December because of funding troubles, helped generate more than $150,000 in child support payments.

The Solid Opportunities program has operated at the Urban League under a couple of different names and objectives. The one constant with the training program has been its funding problems, which have caused the program to be stopped and restarted several times.

Initially the program received operating money from the city of Cincinnati, Hamilton County and the state. The Empowerment Zone later agreed to become the chief financier for a period of time. That period will end April 30.

"We need some help so that we can help the people we serve," Price said.

Ronald Horton, 52, of Avondale, said he is finding a new way of life through Solid Opportunities. Horton, a recovering drug addict, was released from prison six months ago and referred to the program by Prospect House, a substance abuse recovery center.

Horton said he has a new attitude.

"I'm learning how to love me and to share myself with my employers and my family," Horton said.


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