The three-legged stool: How Catholic Charities intends to end poverty long term

North Texas Catholic
(Apr 24, 2019) Local

Ronna Huckaby of Catholic Charities Fort Worth describes programs that find long-term solutions to poverty at an April 23 Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce meeting. (NTC/Jayme Donahue)

FORT WORTH — Catholic Charities Fort Worth has a firm grasp of its goal, but it’s happy to share it.

The nonprofit intends to help end poverty for 10,000 local families by 2026. Three pillars of employment, education, and nonprofit case management can work together to lift families out of poverty, like a stool supported by three legs. Achieving that goal will benefit employers and the greater community, in addition to the newly self-sufficient.

For the first time, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, Tarrant County College, and Catholic Charities Fort Worth partnered for a presentation, “The Untapped Workforce: How to Address Talent Needs and Create Economic Prosperity,” on April 23.

Dr. Anthony Edwards, senior vice president of talent development, retention, and attraction with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, explained one of the top challenges for local businesses is finding and keeping quality skilled workers. About 20 percent of the area’s population has not graduated from high school and another 30 percent has not completed an associate degree, creating an opportunity gap between an underprepared workforce and vacant middle-skill jobs.

The “untapped workforce” describes potential employees that the typical human resources department overlooks, often due to a lack of job skills or education.

That’s where Tarrant County College takes the baton.

In addition to two-year associate degrees, the college system offers 42 certifications for high-demand occupations which can be quickly attained, according to Candy Center, the district director of curriculum and education planning for Tarrant County College. She cited the example of construction inspection, which requires the completion of only six courses but can provide certified technicians with a salary of $35,000 or more.

Healthcare, information security, and supply chain management are also certifications in fields with strong employment prospects in the Metroplex.

Center said the community college tries to increase access to its services by providing multiple convenient locations and keeping tuition affordable. Still, more than 60 percent of community college students fail to graduate within six years.

One proven method of increasing the likelihood of students graduating or completing their certification is Stay the Course™, a research project coordinated by Catholic Charities Fort Worth and the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities at the University of Notre Dame.

Dr. Anthony Edwards with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce (NTC/Jayme Donahue)

Students randomly selected for Stay the Course™ receive intensive case management to help them persist in their education. Navigators provide coaching and support to overcome academic and personal obstacles. Emergency funds are available for unexpected bills such as a car repair or doctor’s visit.

Research indicates that Tarrant County College students participating in Stay the Course™ graduate at a rate four times higher than those who are not paired with a case manager.

Ronna Huckaby, chief services officer and vice president of operations at Catholic Charities Fort Worth, said the nonprofit focuses on long-term solutions to poverty, not just crisis intervention. Concentrated case management is critical.

Many are surprised, continued Huckaby, that an estimated one third of employees qualify as working poor — living paycheck to paycheck, having no savings, and holding significant consumer debt. Catholic Charities Fort Worth offers on-site Employer Based Services to businesses to help the working poor obtain long-term self-sufficiency and financial security.

Fish Window Cleaning attended the presentation and uses Employer Based Services. They explained that many of their entry-level positions are filled by individuals just entering the workforce. An Employer Based Services case worker visits the worksite to provide coaching on financial literacy, goal setting, and professional work habits, such as being on time.

Launched in 2017, Employer Based Services is offered as a workplace wellness benefit and has resulted in increased morale, improved attendance, and an increased commitment to the employer, according to Huckaby.

Collaborations between Tarrant County College, Catholic Charities Fort Worth, and local businesses have proven successful in preparing students for middle-skill employment and teaching them the financial wellness habits to obtain economic security.  

By having Tarrant County College and Catholic Charities Fort Worth at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce event, businesses can gain awareness of community resources available for employee recruitment, training, and retention.

Edwards said, “What we do as a Chamber is to help connect and put resources together that are already out there in the community,” including education, transportation, child care, and case management.

He continued, “Two of the best ways to decrease the poverty rate and increase our talent supply are to help employers access untapped talent pools and help make employers aware of best-practices in talent development, attraction, and retention. Creating and promoting paths to high-wage jobs are two strategies to attract and retain talent in an economy with a historically low unemployment rate.”

By convening employers, educators, and nonprofits, Edwards said the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce has a role “to help employees get out of poverty, and to help the employer’s businesses grow and succeed, which will ultimately help our community be a thriving community for all.”

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