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Program helps people grow into jobs

By Megan Workman
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Unemployed and low-income parents in Kanawha County are already learning culinary skills and have built greenhouses they will use to help them get jobs.The Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Actions' latest program, the Growing Jobs Project, provides low-income parents with the skills and tools needed to build a résumé and find employment, said KISRA Chief Executive Officer Michelle Foster.Once they complete about two months of training at KISRA and another two months at a transitional job, participants will be able to work in construction, culinary or farming jobs and know how to maintain a greenhouse and a garden, Foster said.Participants make $8 an hour and the salaries they earn while working at a transitional job will be paid through the Growing Jobs Project, she said.Six fathers started building two 3,000-square-foot greenhouses in December -- across the street from KISRA's office on Perkins Avenue in Dunbar -- which they finished building two weeks ago, she said.West Virginians will use the greenhouses -- one for produce and the other for plants -- to learn how to grow food and manage an urban farm. They have the opportunity to earn money by selling what they grow at local farmers' markets, she said.Participants have been enrolled in the culinary skills training at the Dunbar center for more than a week, Foster said. A representative from the Carver Career Center is teaching parents culinary skills with knives and more in KISRA's commercial kitchen. The Growing Jobs Project also has a food truck that members will use to sell healthy foods while they learn how to operate a mobile business. The truck will travel to fairs and festivals."The project is designed to help people who may have difficulty finding employment," Foster said. "I think they will see that a career in these kinds of areas is feasible and doable. They may have never been exposed to this kind of training before."The federally subsidized employment project is an extension of KISRA's Responsible Fatherhood Program, which addresses key fathering characteristics and helps men evaluate their own parenting skills as well as their fathering role models.
Both programs are sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families. The JP Morgan Chase Foundation is also funding the Growing Jobs Project, Foster said.While the project is focused on teaching committed fathers necessary skills, Foster said the program is open to any parent whose income is 200 percent below the federal poverty level.Foster said she anticipates at least 60 people will take advantage of the program each year. Ten people will go through training in groups at a time, she said. Participants are allowed to take part in training at the greenhouse, in the commercialized kitchen and on the food truck -- or in all the segments."They will be trying all different positions and on certain days they will be working and certain hours they will be training," Foster said. "It gives them the opportunity to try out something that maybe they didn't think was possible before."Businesses will benefit, too.
Not only do they get a skilled workforce by hiring Growing Jobs Project participants, but they will spend less money and time training them because they'll be equipped with the skills they've already learned, Foster said.The program will bring healthy foods to the area, too, which Foster said is important."We're focused on the job piece of it but another byproduct is helping people to make better eating choices since the greenhouses are going to be organic," Foster said. "We'll be giving residents more access to fresh fruits and vegetables and that is a major impact of this project."To learn more about the Growing Jobs Project, call Program Manager Terri Berkley at 304-395-6852 or email Megan Workman at or 304-348-5113. 
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