“You can give a man food to eat. You can give a man clothes. But at the end of the day, giving a man a job will change his life. And I’m living proof of that.”
Those words are spoken by Jamir Jamoke, Program Manager for Hometown Hires, at the beginning of a video made to promote the program spearheaded by the Cape Fear Area United Way. They are memorable and noteworthy because they speak to the root of much of the crime in our area: generational poverty. The simple fact is that the vast majority of crime is preventable. Battling crime is often largely about battling poverty. That begins with providing jobs for those that need them.
Hometown Hires is an innovative collaboration between private, public and nonprofit organizations that matches local individuals with local employers. The program offers work-ready training skills and mentoring opportunities to vetted candidates while identifying and assisting with potential barriers. We’ve all heard the old proverb: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. As District Attorney Ben David is fond of saying, Hometown Hires is about giving them access to the pond.
The program creates opportunity and gives the unemployed the resources to empower themselves and their community. It is a hand up, not a handout…without increasing the role of government. The private sector and non-profits perform the heavy lifting, and the innovative initiative is already becoming a model for other communities.
Many of you may not have heard about the program until recently, when it was announced that Vertex—a new manufacturer of railroad cars locating in Wilmington—would hire ten percent of its 1,300 person workforce from the program. Employing 130 people entrenched in generational poverty with good paying jobs is impactful in and of itself. But the impact multiplies when one considers that those employed will now become role models for others. Those hired through the program have already seen that happen. Through their example and encouragement, others have had their eyes opened that a living made on the streets is not a substitute for a living made legally. One of the reasons that Hometown Hires has found such success is the process under which it operates. Applicants are linked to appropriate employers that offer living-wage jobs. Providing volunteer mentoring helps in the transition to the responsibility of working full time. In addition, to qualify, potential candidates go through a strict vetting process that includes:
• Recommendation/referral from selected community organizations;
• Disqualification of individuals having committed violent felonies;
• Hometown Hires panel interview with candidate;
• Criminal record check;
• Drug test (as required by employer); and
• Business training and other skills assessments.
Training and support are also available to enhance skill development and education before applicants ever meet with employers.
If your business could provide suitable opportunities to participate in this program, I highly encourage you to do so. Contact the United Way of the Cape Fear Area to discuss your employment needs and consider Hometown Hires candidates when making personnel decisions. If your business isn’t a good fit for employment opportunities, you can bolster the success of Hometown Hires by providing donations or serving as a mentor. Mentors provide information and guidance to those in the program, and mentors receive training and support as needed. Breaking the grip of generational poverty is much more than a noble cause. Providing jobs to those that need them benefits you, your business and the community by decreasing crime rates and making us a safer, more attractive community for future economic development. Hats off to everyone involved in the creation of this program.