A Georgia Center for Opportunity agenda for 2023

A Georgia Center for Opportunity agenda for 2023

2023 agenda<br />

A Georgia Center for Opportunity agenda for 2023

Key Points

  • Our primary education-centric emphasis will be on passing legislation for Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).
  • Over the course of 2023, we’ll focus on working in more schools statewide.
  • Our team is excited to broaden BETTER WORK’s reach so this highly successful program can continue to nurture, jump-start, and inspire those who need it most.
As the new year dawns, we’re excited about everything we were able to accomplish with your support in 2022. But our focus is also forward, and our team is excited to expand our growth and reach into Georgia communities and beyond in 2023. Today, we’re outlining our 2023 agenda, so let’s jump right in!

Policy

Our primary education-centric emphasis will be on passing legislation for Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). But we’ll also be advocating for reforms to public school funding formulas to ensure that money follows each child to the school their parents or guardians have chosen. We’ll also support legislation to expand the Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program.

Here are some of the other important areas where we’ll be focusing: 

        • Benefits Cliffs Reform Task Force: We’ll ask the legislature to appoint a joint House/Senate committee to investigate and seek out reform ideas for the welfare system’s disincentives to marriage and work.
        • Welfare/Workforce Integration: This is a critical piece of trigger legislation that would integrate Georgia and federal workforce development services and welfare benefits. Modeled after work done in Utah, integration will take effect when Congress passes legislation that allows it.
        • Prisoner Reentry: We will advocate for legislation that requires licensing boards to offer returning citizens the opportunity to get an occupational license upon release from prison. (These licenses would not be related to the crimes they were convicted for.) Based on our earlier successes changing the law, licensing boards are meant to be doing this already. But we’ve received word that they aren’t following the intended procedures. This new law would give returning citizens the right to appeal denials issued by a licensing board.
“There’s much work to be done in the new year, but we’re ready to rise to the challenges.”
There’s much work to be done in the new year, but we’re ready to rise to the challenges.”

Family

Strengthening families through better education, job opportunities, and legislation is at the heart of what we do. Many of our initiatives result in the establishment of new families, as well as adding multiple layers of stability to new and existing families. We’ll address those initiatives in other sections of this post, but for our purposes here, we’ll talk about our push to keep kids in school.

Over the course of 2023, we’ll focus on working in more schools statewide. We’ll accomplish this through our Raising Highly Capable Kids curriculum. Raising Highly Capable Kids equips parents with 40 essential developmental assets, which have been shown to improve children’s academic performance dramatically. As our reach expands, we’ll zero in on serving students from Title I schools who are at risk of dropping out.

BETTER WORK

The BETTER WORK initiative serves to help unemployed and underemployed individuals find gainful employment that helps them feel fulfilled and successful. BETTER WORK ultimately contributes to better long-term financial stability for individuals and families in Georgia. We’re committed to increasing our efforts in the new year. 

When it comes to the BETTER WORK program, we have two primary goals in 2023: 

  1. Growing our community program reach in Columbus and Gwinnett counties. We’re aiming for a combined total of 1,000 job candidates in 2023. Part of this initiative includes optimizing our mentors’ effectiveness through additional training and content. We’ll also be expanding training options for job candidates to help them prepare for the job market.
  2. Using the lessons we’ve learned from implementing BETTER WORK and creating a replicable model we can take into other communities. 

Our team is excited to broaden BETTER WORK’s reach so this highly successful program can continue to nurture, jump-start, and inspire those who need it most.

Education 

Throughout 2023, the Georgia Center for Opportunity will work toward equipping Georgia parents with essential tools and skills for finding the best learning opportunities and environments for their children. We’ll also assist them with learning how to access funding and scholarships that will help to pay for their children’s education. These combined efforts will provide parents with a more substantial voice as they advocate for better educational options. 

The Georgia General Assembly’s passage of House Bill 517, effectively raising the state Tax Credit Scholarship Program cap from $100 million to $120 million per year. In addition, HB517 removes the automatic program sunset and doubles how much individuals, LLCs, and S Corporations can contribute. While we appreciate the marginal gain of $20 million and the strengthened tax-credit program, we would have liked to see the Senate raise the cap to the House’s proposed $200 million. Hopefully, in the next legislative session, the cap will be increased further. 

Still, thousands of children in Georgia will benefit from this broadened access to high-quality education. Regardless of our organizational stance on the finalized legislation, we celebrate the educational opportunities these children will enjoy.
 

Alliance for Opportunity

In the coming year, we’ll be working alongside our partners in Louisiana and Texas to forward our joint effort to improve our respective states’ employment, welfare systems, and criminal justice policies. We’ll focus on partnering with our Congressional representatives to advocate for and advance legislation that would give states the ability to reform their workforce development and welfare programs. Ultimately, our goal is to help those programs work together seamlessly, without discouraging marriage or gainful employment. 

 

Wrapping Up

There’s much work to be done in the new year, but we’re ready to rise to the challenges. As 2023 unfolds, we remain dedicated to supporting our Georgia communities and beyond, going above and beyond to help improve policy and strengthen families, careers, and educational opportunities. Once again, we’re grateful for your support! 

 

Q&A with Amber Gorman at BETTER WORK Columbus

Q&A with Amber Gorman at BETTER WORK Columbus

Q&A with Amber Gorman at BETTER WORK Columbus

Amber Gorman joined the BETTER WORK Columbus team in October, 2022 as a program specialist. We recently had a chance to sit down with her and hear more about her background, what brought her to BETTER WORK, and why she is passionate about helping people who are struggling find meaningful, self-supporting work.

 

Q: Please tell us a little about yourself.

I come from generational poverty. I grew up very poor. I also struggled with addiction for a couple of years, but I’m now five years clean, which is great. God brought me out of that and He has also brought me out of poverty through employment and networking. Now, I have social capital which I didn’t used to have. I also have a better view of myself now than I used to. I thought that was just my life and that it wasn’t ever going to get any better. Then I got tired of living like that and I was like, “I’m going to do something different.” And I did whatever it took. It was a lot of work.

I have a criminal background as well. Looking at me on paper, most people wouldn’t hire me, but they bring me in for an interview. Then, they hear my story and they’re like, “Oh, wow! I want to give you a chance.” I’ve never been not hired because of my background, which is great in the position that I’m currently in. 

A lot of the candidates that I work with at BETTER WORK Columbus deal with a lot of what I’ve already been through and overcome, so I can take my life experiences and bring that to them and help them come through that. That’s kind of me in a nutshell. As far as work experience, I feel like I’ve done it all. I’ve done it all like resorts, chicken plants, textile mills, and retail. I’ve done it all.

Q: What brought you to BETTER WORK Columbus?

I’m not from Columbus. I’m actually from Northeast Georgia, a little bitty, small town in White County. My husband and I moved down here. There just weren’t a lot of opportunities up there and he had a network down here. So, about a year after we got married, we moved down here, and then I didn’t work for a while, and then I started going back to work. It was just kind of part-time, just to kind of get out of the house.

We got involved with Fountain City Church in Columbus. Pastor Grant Collins is amazing. We love him. Before we became members, I asked him, “What’s your ministry? Who do you partner with? How are you trying to reach the community?” He told me that Jobs for Life is what they partnered with. And at the time I wasn’t working and I was like, “Oh well, I don’t know if that’s something that I would be interested in because I don’t even have a job.”

That’s when I met Kristin Barker. She was holding a Jobs for Life luncheon for employer partners at the church. I didn’t know that’s what it was. My pastor asked me to help volunteer serving food, and so I went and I got to sit through the presentation and it touched me because we didn’t have that where I was from and I had to do all of it on my own — like build my own connections and make myself more marketable to employers.

So many people need that and it gives you such an advantage in the work market place. And so after that, I was like, “I have to be a part of this.” You know, I have to and so a little bit later, Pastor Grant comes back. He asked me, ” Hey, do you want to be a facilitator for Jobs for Life?” I was hesitant. I got all nervous and I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do it”. He said that he thinks I’d be great and so I said yes.

Kristin and I worked closely together for 13 weeks. And then the job posting came up with BETTER WORK Columbus, and she was like, ” I think you should apply for it.” I was a little worried because I didn’t have a degree or this or that and there’s my criminal background but she knew all of that. She’s heard my story and she still encouraged me to apply. And I was like, ” You know what, if God wants me to have it, then I’ll have it. ” And so I did and I applied and went through the interview process, and here I am.

Q: What’s your role at BETTER WORK?

I’m the program specialist for BETTER WORK Columbus. I’m the point of contact for candidates and am working on becoming the point of contact for employers as well. When candidates put in their applications — whether it’s for employment, training, or mentorship — I speak with them. We kind of figure out what it is exactly that they need, and what’s going to be a good fit for them. I help pair them with resources in the community as well as job opportunities. Or, if they’re interested in mentoring or having a mentor, then I partner them with that mentor as well and kind of foster that relationship.




 

“What really touches my heart is being able to help those people who are maybe underemployed or have just been out of the workforce for a while or moms that are trying to come into the workforce and being able to connect with those opportunities.”

“What really touches my heart is being able to help those people who are maybe underemployed or have just been out of the workforce for a while or moms that are trying to come into the workforce and being able to connect with those opportunities.”

Q: What are some of your favorite aspects of BETTER WORK’s mission?

 

Our positive relationship with employers is my favorite part. In Columbus there are around 300 applicants for every open job. It’s a tough environment. But with BETTER WORK, we have those relationships so we can kind of help the candidates get a foot in the door. What we’re doing though is we’re targeting people who are in poverty. 

We don’t turn anybody away. I have people who come to me with Bachelor’s Degrees that’s just relocated and it’s great to be able to help them to gain employment, too. But what really touches my heart is being able to help those people who are maybe underemployed or have just been out of the workforce for a while or moms that are trying to come into the workforce and being able to connect with those opportunities. A lot of them are on government programs. Eventually, the goal is to be self-sufficient and connect them with opportunities where they can work. 

It’s not just a job. It’s something that’s supposed to be long-term where they can grow. They can learn more about themselves. They learn more about the workforce and they can move up in the industry. I love being able to give those opportunities to people that want them.

 

Q: What are some of the things that motivate you, personally, in your work?

My hope for the future of BETTER WORK is that I want us to become the go-to place for job applicants and employers. Applicants can feel confident that we’re going to be able to place them somewhere. Employers are going to be confident that we’re going to send them people that are going to be there till they retire, and they’re going to be wonderful employees. Also, it could also reduce unemployment rates and things like that. I really want to create a childcare program. That’s what I want to do.



 

Eddie’s story: Moving from homelessness to a housing and a stable job

Eddie’s story: Moving from homelessness to a housing and a stable job

Eddie

Eddie’s story: Moving from homelessness to a housing and a stable job

Key Points

  • Eddie was homeless and living on the streets. 
  • With a home secured, Eddie’s next step was to find more permanent work
  • Eddie is excited and proud to have taken steps toward building the life he wants.

“I look forward to moving on up.”

That’s how Eddie Craig describes his current career aspirations. He has light in his eyes and hope in his heart, now that he has a steady job and a place to call home. But life wasn’t always so good for Eddie.

Eddie spent nearly five years on the street, homeless and working odd jobs. He earned money by raking and mowing yards, but it wasn’t enough to pay for a place to live. Every night, he slept in his car.

Then, he came to Home For Good, where he got in touch with an advocate named Ms. Terry. One morning, Ms. Terry located his car, where she woke him and introduced herself. 

“I heard her tap on the car window one morning. To be honest with you, I thought it was the police, because they were white,” Eddie says. “But I stepped out of the car and found out her name was Ms. Terry. She got my name and everything.” 

For about a month, Ms. Terry worked with Eddie to find affordable housing. 

“The next thing I knew, she was calling me to tell me I had my own place,” he says. “We went over there and checked it out. I didn’t care what it looked like. She said, ‘You like it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I like it, no problem.’”

With his housing secure, Eddie’s next step was to find more permanent work. That’s where BETTER WORK Columbus stepped in. Eddie attended a job fair hosted by BETTER WORK. Eddie met Kristin, who went on to help him complete his hiring paperwork and get his questions answered.

“Between BETTER WORK and Home For Good, getting Eddie into housing and a steady job was a team effort,” Kristin says. 

Unfortunately, once Eddie was hired at his first job through BETTER WORK, reliable transportation proved to be an obstacle. His employer changed his schedule to another shift, and he couldn’t get to work. Still, he was determined to find another job, so he reached back out to BETTER WORK for help any time he encountered a roadblock. 

“He succeeded because he didn’t give up,” Kristin says. 

Fortunately, Eddie was able to get connected at a new job with the Marriott Hotel, where he’s happily employed and thriving. Since Eddie doesn’t have a formal education, Kristin and Ms. Terry helped him complete and submit his application paperwork. Along the way, he also got help obtaining the identifying documentation he needed to get hired — items such as his birth certificate, ID, and Social Security card.

“I had to start from the bottom,” he says.

Eddie credits Kristin for the job and Ms. Terry for his escape from homelessness.

“Thank God for BETTER WORK,” says Eddie. “I’m a living witness this has helped me.”

 

 

“Thank God for BETTER WORK,” says Eddie. “I’m a living witness this has helped me.”

“Thank God for BETTER WORK,” says Eddie. “I’m a living witness this has helped me.”

Eddie’s success story at BETTER WORK is largely attributed to the fact that he had a genuine desire to earn an honest living for himself. He knew others in the homeless community who didn’t share his drive, but he was determined to build a better future for himself. 

“I consider myself physically healthy and mentally healthy,” he says. “As far as a paycheck, everybody loves a paycheck.”

For others like Eddie who are looking for a steady job, he offers reassurance that the team at BETTER WORK will take their interests and strengths into consideration during the job search process. 

“BETTER WORK is going to help you find what you love to do,” he says. “It won’t just be digging ditches — unless you like digging ditches.”

Ultimately, Eddie is excited and proud to have taken steps toward building the life he wants. And BETTER WORK is proud to have played a part in his story. 

“It’s just good to be in the workforce,” he says.

Five reasons to celebrate the value of work on Labor Day

Five reasons to celebrate the value of work on Labor Day

Five reasons to celebrate the value of work on Labor Day

Key Points

  • A disproportionately large number of able-bodied adults have checked out of the workforce.
  • This Labor Day, we’d like to acknowledge five reasons why work remains so important.

Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 under President Grover Cleveland. The core meaning of the holiday is to celebrate the achievements and value of everyday workers. But here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity, we see another important part of Labor Day celebrations — to acknowledge the value of work itself.

The United States has a rich history of viewing work as ennobling. That’s part of what has helped each succeeding generation of Americans have a brighter economic future than the one before. But in recent history, we’ve witnessed an anti-work spirit arise in our nation.  

A disproportionately large number of able-bodied adults have checked out of the workforce. Even though the unemployment rate in the U.S. is at historic lows, the labor force participation rate has not caught up — indicating that millions of workers are absent from the workforce who could otherwise be working.

This Labor Day, we’d like to acknowledge five reasons why work remains so important.

  1. Work provides a key source of dignity

Work is about bettering one’s self and one’s family materially, that’s true. But that is not the only benefit. Another benefit is the way the work itself benefits the individual, the intangible but no less important side benefits of work.

When we are separated from work, we lose more than just monetary compensation or the food, shelter, clothing, and other basics that money can buy. We also face a loss of social connection, meaningful activity, self-respect, and overall purpose.

  1. Work helps to establish our daily rhythms

Work establishes the daily rhythms of life. It dictates when we rise from bed, when we eat our meals, how we schedule our weeks, how we interact with our families. Work provides important structure for our lives.

  1. Work benefits all of society

Workers make contributions that extend beyond their own families to society as a whole. They generate value and rely on themselves rather than government assistance. Employed people are also less likely to commit crime and their families tend to be healthier.

Bringing The Dignity of Work to every individual.

 



We believe that every able-bodied individual should have a path to fulfilling work. We do this through initiatives that create a flourishing job market, remove barriers to those unable to find work, and work directly with communities to move the un and underemployed into work.

  1. Work provides an opportunity to be generous to others

Work gives us the monetary resources to be generous to those in need. Maybe that’s why the U.S. is one of the most generous nations in the world for private philanthropy — historically, we’ve valued hard work and the generosity made possible by it.

  1. Work honors God

Our religious traditions teach that work has intrinsic value. In the Hebrew account of creation, God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden and instructed him “to work it and keep it.” In the New Testament, Paul stated that “if a man will not work, he will not eat.” The Calvinist work ethic brought to our shores by the Puritans equated diligent work with duty to God. 

Meet Eric Watson of Express Employment Professionals

Meet Eric Watson of Express Employment Professionals

Meet Eric Watson of Express Employment Professionals

Key Points

  • Express Employment professionals works with 70 companies in Gwinnett and in DeKalb Counties to help them find top talent.
  • Eric has utilized the BETTER WORK portal to help job seekers streamline the application process. 

  • Workers are getting multiple jobs to cover all these expenses to sustain their quality of life amidst inflation.

A BETTER WORK Partner who helps job seekers find positions where they can thrive

Eric Watson and his wife started Express Employment Professionals almost two decades ago. They focus primarily on long-term contract staffing in manufacturing, warehousing logistics, office administration, and professional placement. Express Employment professionals works with 70 companies in Gwinnett and in DeKalb Counties to help them find top talent. 

“Once we’ve helped these companies find good people, the company will either hire them immediately as a direct hire, or they’ll attempt to hire,” Eric says.

For employees who aren’t brought in as immediate direct hires, Express Employment professionals takes them on temporarily for a 90-day period, after which they’re released and hired full-time by their respective companies.

 

Helping a diverse job seeker base find employment

Eric and his team work with a wide range of individuals, communities, and organizations to place strong job candidates with the companies that need them. They partner with nonprofits in both Gwinnett and DeKalb Counties. Some of these organizations include Goodwill, resettlement agencies in Clarkston, and Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS) in Chamblee. 

Additionally, Eric works with Neighborhood Cooperative Ministries in Norcross, who ultimately referred him to BETTER WORK. Since our partnership with Eric began, he has utilized the BETTER WORK portal to help job seekers streamline the application process. 

“It’s very easy for us because BETTER WORK applicants apply on the portal,” Eric says. “We get emails periodically from folks who are interested in applying for our open positions.

“We have someone designated in my office who determines if we’ve got a position, and whether applicants match the skill set and experience there we’re looking for. Then, we schedule them for an interview, bring them in, and hopefully get them placed very quickly.”

Eric and his team provide a monthly flier highlighting the top job openings available through BETTER WORK. It’s a one-page sheet listing positions they’re trying to fill, including jobs in office administration, accounting, human resources, manufacturing, warehousing, specialty staffing, and more.

“It’s very easy for us because BETTER WORK applicants apply on the portal.”   

               Eric Watson 

 

 

Insert the same content here to work on mobile and tablet.

Common employment obstacles in Gwinnett County 

In the current environment, both employers and job seekers alike are facing a plethora of obstacles. According to Eric, Gwinnett County’s greatest employer obstacle is finding workers. 

“Our biggest challenge is finding workers who are work-ready,” he says. “There seems to be a huge shortage of folks who are available and willing to work. I think we’re very close to, if not at full, employment. It’s just very, very difficult.” 

Eric says that it’s common for workers to leave the jobs they’re placed in within days to weeks of beginning work. Company loyalty has become a thing of the past, and workers are more prone to moving from one job to another rather than staying in one place. 

“I think workers are trying to seek out the best compensation package,” Eric says. “A lot of times, that includes more benefits. On the flip side, I think employers are starting to offer more flexible work schedules to attract folks.” 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eric says it was more difficult for workers to find flexible jobs. However, he’s observed that employers are more willing to consider flexibility these days. 

For workers, the greatest roadblock is making enough money to sustain their quality of life amidst inflation and skyrocketing prices of gas, food, and necessities. Since disposable income is dropping, Eric says workers are getting multiple jobs to cover all these expenses.

“Workers may have a primary job,” Eric says, “but then they have a secondary job after hours or on the weekends just to make ends meet.” 

Because of companies’ need for workers and workers’ need for flexibility and a stronger income, Eric says this is a workers’ market. One of his most memorable job placements was a woman from Lilburn who was looking for a company that would accommodate the schedule she needed. 

“A packaging company in Stone Mountain, about 15 minutes from her home, accommodated her on the schedule she asked for,” Eric says. “It’s not a traditional 8-to-5, Monday through Friday. She was able to work in the middle of the afternoon till the early evening hours.

“The company was able to accommodate her in order to be able to get her. She’s very happy and is working toward permanent employment.”

BETTER WORK is proud to partner with businesses and community organizations like Express Employment Professionals. This collaboration in the Georgia communities of Gwinnett County in metro Atlanta and Columbus prepares lower income populations for a better future through meaningful work and upward mobility. Businesses, nonprofits, community providers, religious institutions, and job placement agencies all come together to provide a local safety net.

Learn more about Express Employment Professionals here.

 

Roadblocks to work make the world a sticky place

Roadblocks to work make the world a sticky place

Man on steps holding sign that reads jobless, will work for mortgage

Roadblocks to work make the world a sticky place

Key Points

  • The hindrances to people finding work goes far beyond an unwillingness or inability to work.
  • Those looking for work face many barriers that range from circumstantial to systemic and even policy roadblocks.
  • It is important that we understand the roadblocks faced by those looking for work so that we can properly address them as we move people into work opportunities.

A story about work barriers

I met a gentleman earlier this year (we’ll call him Lenny) who stated that “he just wants to work”. His basic needs are being met, at least for now, but he can’t stand the idea that he isn’t able to contribute. While talking to Lenny and hearing his story, I realized just how many physical roadblocks he has to overcome in order to start a job, show up at a job site every single day to do the work, and get a paycheck. There are basic requirements, the things that most people take for granted as necessary and easy, that create huge barriers for Lenny.

I will share a few of these physical roadblocks below that Better Work is addressing as we work with Lenny.

Joyelle wasn’t looking for a handout, she was looking for an opportunity to provide and support her family.

Joyelle wasn’t looking for a handout, she was looking for an opportunity to provide and support her family.

 Transportation

This is one of the first barriers Lenny has to consider that impacts his ability to work. His main mode of transportation is walking. He walks to shop. He walks to appointments. He walks to work when he can. Lenny will also take the bus if it is available when and where he needs to go. He has no other options for transportation.

This means that Lenny can’t work in positions that start before the bus can get him there or end after the bus stops running (currently at 8:30pm) unless that business is close enough for him to walk. He also can’t accept jobs that require him to work on Sundays because no public transportation is currently available then.

Inconsistent Work

The transportation challenges described above have caused Lenny to leave a position he worked in faithfully for 2.5 months to look for another. A change in scheduling meant he was no longer able to stay in this job. This can lead to job hopping and means Lenny is unable to get the traction he needs to set goals, get raises, and improve his current situation.

Technology

Lenny has never really used computers as most of his past work has been in jobs requiring physical labor. He has a phone and recently set up an email address but doesn’t really understand how to check it or communicate that way. This creates additional limitations in a world that more often than not requires communication via technology at every level and for any occupation.

Applications and Hiring Paperwork

Most job applications are online as well as the forms that must be completed during hiring. All of this is necessary. How else will hiring managers collect the information they need to pay you and to protect your data. These online requirements can become a roadblock for someone like Lenny.

Lenny is not so very different from others I talk to on a weekly basis. He is actually in a better position than some. Fortunately, Lenny has an ID. Many don’t. Lenny doesn’t have children at home. Many do.

Society is quick to judge people who are not working. We are quick to label them as lazy. I ask you to consider what you would do if you were in Lenny’s place. The barriers mentioned above are just a drop in the bucket for people who find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of need.

Meanwhile, Lenny continues to fight for what is important to him – the dignity of work!

Better Work Columbus will continue to fight alongside Lenny and support others like him. I urge you to be slow to judge, wary of pointing fingers, and quick to show encouragement.