Hand Up Initiative has helped nearly 500 people get jobs so far

Some still poor but 'better off'

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley's signature Hand Up Initiative has helped 490 people get jobs since it launched in May 2015, according to the latest figures from the city's Department of Community and Economic Development.

Data released to WCPO Monday show that roughly two-thirds of the eligible people who enrolled in the job-training programs that are part of the initiative have gotten jobs.

That success rate is good considering the program aims to serve some of the city's poorest residents, said Peggy Zink, president of Cincinnati Works, the organization that has helped the most people get jobs through the initiative.

"They're more likely to come from generational poverty or neighborhoods where there aren't as many resources to help them," she said.

Cranley initiated Hand Up as his signature poverty-reduction strategy after being elected in 2013. The program is funded through federal Community Development Block Grant dollars. It combines job readiness and training programs to help people get jobs and work their way to self-sufficiency.

The original plan that Cranley unveiled during his 2013 campaign was more ambitious than the plan City Council ultimately passed. But he told WCPO earlier this month that he remains "very proud" that his administration got it funded.

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"It's made a real difference," he said. "It's not the only reason but part of the reason we've seen a 5 percent reduction in childhood poverty."

The city has funneled more than $4 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to the Hand Up Initiative since it began in 2015.

The initiative allocates that funding to seven local organizations that provide different types of training:

Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency provides commercial driver's license training and testing.

Cincinnati Works provides "JumpStart" training that includes job readiness, job search and employment help, removal of barriers to work and help with career advancement.

Freestore Foodbank provides Cincinnati Cooks! training and ServSafe food-handling and training. The training takes between five and six weeks.

IKRON Corp. provide training for people with special needs to prepare for work such as food service, administrative support and construction. 

Mercy Neighborhood Ministries provides home care aide training that offers a way to get started in the health care industry. The training takes five to six weeks.

Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati provides on-the-job training in the construction industry, teaching how to deconstruct buildings and operate a Bobcat, among other skills.

Greater Cincinnati Urban League provides job readiness and skill development through its Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention program. The Urban League also provides training through its Construction Connections course to help participants get jobs in the construction industry.

Councilmember Yvette Simpson, who is running against Cranley, said in a statement that she thinks a focus on reducing poverty is good for the city but that the mayor “has not come close” to meeting his original goal of moving 4,000 Cincinnati residents out of poverty in its first four years.

A spokeswoman for Cranley said the city figures that for every person who gets a job, at least 2.7 residents are impacted. That would equate to 1,323 people based on the latest data. The number probably is higher because many of the adults who get jobs through the program have bigger families, the spokeswoman said.

But Simpson said the numbers aren’t the only problem.

“It is not clear if those jobs actually lifted people out of poverty,” she said.

Zink acknowledged that some people who complete workforce development programs and get jobs continue to live in poverty for a while.

"But they are better off," she said.

Adults who have been unemployed or under-employed for years often must start with entry-level jobs and work their way up to positions that pay better.

"We tell people, 'This is just your next stop on the journey. This doesn't have to be where you stay,'" Zink said. "This is the job that is going to build a platform from which to grow."

More information about the Hand Up Initiative is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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