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Esperanza receives stimulus grant to help youth employment; hosts June 26 luncheon

By Arooj Ashraf, LaPrensa Correspondent 

Cleveland: Esperanza Inc. has been approved for a $199,267 Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Youth Training grant funded by Pres. Obama’s stimulus plan to provide employment for disadvantaged or skills-deficient youth between the ages of 14 -24.

This summer, Esperanza will assist 120 youth find employment for six-week sessions, with corporations like Sherwin Williams, Insurance companies, and nonprofits. Youth will be required to work 20 hours a week and will be paid $7.30 an hour by Esperanza. The first session will begin July 6, 2009, and the summer program will end Sept. 30.

“This is a huge honor and a great opportunity for Esperanza to give youth the skills they need in life and become a primer education provider,” said Barbara Esperón, Chief Executive Officer at Esperanza. The organization is one of only eight to receive Federal funding in Cuyahoga County; “We were given less than three weeks to write a proposal and this has been the quickest turn around ever,” said Esperón.

Eligibility criteria is very specific: Youth must lack basic skills such as a GED, computer literacy, lack of résumé or prior work experience, be pregnant teens or single parents, have language or other barriers to  employment such as criminal conviction or be in a low-income bracket. 

Jean Ohlenbush, Grant and Research Assistant, said all applicants are screened for eligibility, interviewed, their skills assessed and then they are matched at a worksite that reflects their personal interest and best chances of success. The grant is divided into four tracks: low income, computer literacy training, pre-college preparation done in partnership with Tri-C, and apprenticeships in construction and remodeling.

“Our objective is to provide training, supervised work experience and we want to ensure they don’t fail,” said Ohlenbush.  All youth will attend two-week mandatory training session for work ethics, etiquette and computer training. Applications are open to the greater community; “We are particularly good at working with those with language barriers because of our bilingual staff,” said Ohlenbush.

Esperón said the organization is liable if unqualified persons are employed and the government will audit to insure the grant is assisting the designated beneficiaries. Esperanza will conduct an evaluation of employability through measurable skills assessment.

Dollar Bank will open bank accounts for everyone employed and Esperanza will place $20 in each. “We have an agreement with the bank that the account balance will never be lower than $20, so even if the person withdraws all their money their account will remain open with the $20 contribution from Esperanza,” Esperón said. In addition, the organization will offer money management workshops with an emphasis on savings.

WIA is also providing bus passes for commuters till they receive their first paycheck in two weeks. Esperón said more than 120 applications have already been received and the pre-college slots are almost full. She encourages youth between 19-24 to apply and business seeking free labor to partner with the organization. “We encourage youth to make a positive impression, as these jobs may lead to full time employment,” Esperon said.

She said even with the overwhelming amount of paperwork applicants have been patient, “They want the job, and many may not have the opportunity otherwise.” The grant is a onetime project but Esperón hopes the organization excels and can bring further investments in education and employment to the region.

Some youth have already been assigned employment at organizations like the Hispanic Urban Minority Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Outreach Program (HUMADOP) where they will learn reception tasks, work on databases, and get general introduction confidentiality policies.  Executive Director Carlos Ivan Ramos said this is a great opportunity for the youth to be exposed to the services HUMADOP provides and may encourage them to pursue further education or training for a viable career. “Ideally we would like our youth to advance in their education and career skills,” Ramos said.

Ohlenbush said those ineligible or unable to find a match through Esperanza can find help with Employment Connection and Youth Opportunities Unlimited.

Magda Gómez said Esperanza is flourishing because of the hard work, devotion and leadership Esperón has brought to the organization and her contributions should be applauded. “In a time where we can see Latinas like Judge Sonia Sotomayor excelling in their professions, we have a wonderful local role model for our kids in Barbara Esperón,” Gómez said. 

Esperanza will host its 19th annual luncheon, honoring the students, their families, and supporters on Friday, June 26, 2009 at Windows on the River, Flats, Cleveland. A total of $30,000 will be awarded in scholarships to 52 students. For information visit: http://esperanzainc.org





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