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CWF model a national winner

Ora Richardson isn’t part of the high-stakes political dealing in Washington to determine which “domestic discretionary” programs will have to be slashed or eliminated to trim the federal budget deficit.

But on a sunny October morning in Englewood, one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, she stood before a roomful of elected officials and corporate and foundation executives, and she showed why one program, in particular, should not be cut.

Photo: Eric Young Smith

“This is smart, non-partisan government work at its best,” Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said of the Social Innovation Fund in explaining why proven programs like LISC’s CWFs were picked. “We’re focusing on evidence, not ideology; on results, not rhetoric.”  

“It has helped me become financially stable,” said the 48-year-old single mother about the new Center for Working Families at Kennedy-King College. The program helped her get a job and straighten out her personal finances. “I’d recommend these services to anyone in need.”

The officials, led by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., came there October 10 to cut a ceremonial ribbon dedicating the Center’s on-campus storefront at the corner of 63rd and Halsted streets.

The event was especially sweet for LISC/Chicago because this expansion of its pioneering CWF model—a one-stop bundling of employment and family financial services—was made possible by winning a prestigious and highly competitive federal grant. And that same grant of $4.2 million—one of only 11 first-round winners nationally—is being used by national LISC to roll out Chicago-style centers in nine other U.S. cities.

The SIF award 
Durbin explained that the federal Social Innovation Fund (SIF) is a key piece of the Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy Serve America Act, one of the first pieces of legislation signed by President Obama in April 2009.  

“This is smart, non-partisan government work at its best,” Durbin said of SIF in explaining why proven programs like LISC’s CWFs were picked. “You find ideas that have already been proven to work … and put them to work back in the communities and neighborhoods where they can change lives. We’re focusing on evidence, not ideology; on results, not rhetoric.”

Photo: Eric Young Smith

LISC/Chicago Executive Director Susana Vasquez thanked the City Colleges of Chicago and numerous other contributors to the 63rd Street CWF effort, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Michael Rubinger, national president and CEO of LISC, explained that the CWF model “got its start here in Chicago. And we picked that up at the national level and are replicating it all across the country.” He called it “the most exciting and important program we’re involved in right now.”

Worth renewing
Beneath all the smiles and optimism, however, there was some unease among community development professionals about impending—but as yet unknown—federal budget cuts as the White House and Congress try to scale back the government’s overall budget deficit.

Entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare have broad-based political support, as does defense spending. That leaves so-called “domestic discretionary” programs, such as SIF, more vulnerable to the budget-cutter’s axe. 

“You’re all aware that things in Washington are difficult these days for programs like ours,” said Rubinger. That’s why, he stressed, it’s important to highlight the proven cost-effectiveness of programs like Centers for Working Families. One recent study by ABT Associates, he said, found the CWF model “highly effective” at raising family incomes, credit scores and net worth.

Paul Carttar, director of the federal Social Innovation Fund at the National Corporation for Community Service, described the LISC/CWF model as “a perfect example of the kind of innovative, community-based solution that the SIF was created to grow.”

Photo: Gordon Walek

Ora Richardson has availed herself of many of the CWF's services, including job preparation and placement, computer skills training, and help raising her credit score by expunging bad, outdated information.

Like Rubinger, he acknowledged clouds on the budgetary horizon, but he urged bipartisan support for “a new approach grounded in America’s extraordinary tradition of citizen engagement and community problem-solving.”  

CWFs, said Carttar, “demonstrate the power of a well-designed, purposeful partnership between communities, intermediaries [like LISC] and the federal government.”

Plenty of partners
At Kennedy-King, LISC was able to partner with—and expand to CWF dimensions—an existing job readiness program run by the Jane Addams Hull House Association. LISC is also expanding the new Center’s reach by connecting it with NCP.

The renamed “63rd Street Corridor Center for Working Families” will take referrals from three nearby NCP affiliates: the Network of Woodlawn (formerly Woodlawn NCP), Teamwork Englewood and the Washington Park Consortium. The Center is also a Family Net Center in the LISC-supported and federally funded Smart Communities digital training and resource program.

Photo: Gordon Walek

Social Innovation Fund Director Paul Carttar (left) talks with LISC President and CEO Michael Rubinger.

And there are other key partners, according to Susana Vasquez, LISC/Chicago executive director and emcee at the ribbon-cutting. She credited contributions by the MacArthur Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Bank of America, Wal-Mart Foundation, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, Walter S. Mander Foundation, Opus Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies and the City of Chicago.

Vasquez especially thanked City Colleges of Chicago and its Chancellor Cheryl Hyman for housing the new Center as well as providing an array “in-kind” services …  including refreshments from the college’s Washburne Culinary Institute.   

But it was left to Louise Smith, president and CEO of Jane Addams Hull House, to introduce the most convincing evidence of CWF’s power to change lives.

Ora’s story
“I present Ms. Ora Richardson,” declared Smith, after describing how the 48-year-old mom of four was helped by the Kennedy-King center to: prepare for and get a job; advance her admittedly “rusty” computer skills; and raise her credit score by expunging bad and outdated information.

Photo: Eric Young Smith

CWF participant Ora Richardson is grateful to program coordinator Ivan Ramos for guiding her along her considerable personal journey.

Her personal journey began, Richardson said, after seeing a flyer for the Center last March on the bulletin board of her local public library. “I was looking for a job, so I called the same day, and the first person I talked to was Ivan Ramos. He’s the program coordinator. He explained what they did and told me to come in on Monday.

 “I learned the importance of the interview, the importance of the first impression, and to dress for success,” she continued. “You know, the do's and don’ts, and how to make an impact answering that all-important question: ‘So, tell me about yourself.’ ”

“I took advantage of it all,” added Richardson of the Center’s package of programs, from job readiness to credit-score upgrading, to household budgeting to applying for benefits like the Earned Income Tax Credit.

And she plans to take more advantage. Her temporary job with a social service agency ends this fall and she’ll again be looking, hopefully for a position where she can use her considerable interpersonal skills. 

“They’ve already given me two leads,” she said of the Center, but more importantly “this has made me confident within myself.”

More information: Ricki Lowitz, LISC/Chicago, (312) 422-9559

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