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 DHS News October 2013     


ILI Project Eases Transition from Foster Care to the Full Time Workforce

It was the number of young men in jail that prompted action, says JoAnn Hannah, Transition Program Manager for the DHS Independent Living Initiative (ILI). Two years ago, about 40 of the young men eligible for ILI were incarcerated. They told DHS staffers they couldn’t find jobs, so, to get money, they did what they had to. DHS administrators knew there had to be a better way.  So in fiscal 2013, the department launched an employment project through ILI.

The project gave about 55 youth leaving foster care a boost into employment. “This project really helps them to get their foot in the door and get that critical, first work experience,” said Stephanie Bechel, Executive Director of YouthWorks, one of three agencies participating in the ILI employment program. The others are The Bridge of Pittsburgh and The Bridge of McKeesport. The seven-week program, for young men 18 to 25, is funded with $175,000 in state and county money.

At YouthWorks, Stephanie said youth who complete the organization’s “Age Up, Not Out” (AUNO)educational sessions, funded by the United Way of Allegheny County and DHS, are eligible to be moved into the ILI employment project. In AUNO, participants explore such things as workplace etiquette, conducting job searches, and completing career interest and skills assessments.

They also get support to address any barriers to employment, such as education and health issues. Besides funding and technical support from DHS, YouthWorks operates AUNO in collaboration with Jewish Family & Children’s Service. YouthWorks became part of the Goodwill of Western Pennsylvania in July 2013.

Some youth who complete AUNO are ready to seek jobs on their own. For those who are not, the ILI employment program provides short-term positions that are “a natural progression for our youth to be able to test the skills they have learned through the AUNO program in a workplace setting.  The experiences give the youth that sheltered opportunity,” Stephanie said.

Twenty-seven AUNO participants at YouthWorks went on to the ILI employment program. They worked at one of 16 companies or agencies, compiling a total of 4,300 on-the-job hours and earning nearly $31,200. One of those young men is Reggie Turner, 19, who worked at Bistro to Go on the North Side, primarily as a dishwasher, but he also learned cooking, communication and business skills, he said. “It was a good stepping stone,” said Reggie, who used his experience on his resume to apply for permanent job.

Stephanie praised DHS not only for the employment program but for its continuing support of YouthWorks. “DHS administrators are always looking for ways that they can enhance our program, as is evidenced by coming to us with this opportunity to employ young men from our AUNO program.”

Companies and agencies that worked with YouthWorks in the first year of the Independent Living Initiative employment program are: Boy Scouts of America; Bistro to Go; Capacity Developers Inc.; Community Empowerment Association; Dress For Success; Family Services of Western Pennsylvania; Hill District Education Council; Hill House Association-Senior Services; Mt. Ararat Baptist Church; Petra International Ministries; Shepherd’s House; Thelma Lovette YMCA; Trau & Loevner; United States Marine Corps; and the Village of Eastside.


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