CINCINNATI -- For 15 years, Kelly Keiser scraped by raising five kids on Social Security survivor benefits and Medicaid.
Her husband had a heart attack and died suddenly when their youngest was just four months old. Two of the children have cystic fibrosis, and their medical needs made it tricky for Keiser to work full-time.
So she stretched the monthly checks and said no to school dances, sports, school trips and other extras that her kids’ friends enjoyed. Medicaid covered her kids’ medical needs, but Keiser went without health insurance for herself that whole time.
But her life changed 16 months ago when Keiser, 48, started working at Thrive Impact Sourcing. Part of Thrive’s mission as an information technology firm is to hire people like Keiser who have been living at or just above the federal poverty rate.
“We’ve been in the IT industry for 20 years, and we have a massive shortage of IT talent locally as well as nationally,” company co-founder Kelly Dolan said. “We recognized that we had an opportunity to try to solve that shortage by employing people that are coming out of an untapped talent pool and filling some of the needs we have for local talent.”
The people Thrive hires have been “overlooked,” co-founder Michael Kroeger added.
“We’re looking at people that might be unemployed or underemployed that actually have all the skills we’re looking for,” he said. “They just need an opportunity to hone that.”
The company pays a living wage and offers health care benefits, paid vacation and even paid time off to volunteer in the community.
Working at Thrive has meant the world to Keiser.
She moved to a new neighborhood, drives a new car and was able to go to the doctor and dentist to catch up on her own medical needs. She is saving for retirement and can even afford the extras that her children did without for all those years.
“My youngest daughter got to go with her class to St. Louis with the orchestra,” Keiser said. “We went on vacation last summer to Punta Cana. The older kids are thinking she’s spoiled now.”
‘Wins all the way around’
Thrive has hired more than 50 employees who, like Keiser, completed IT training through the nonprofit organization Per Scholas. Thrive partners with Per Scholas for software quality assurance training and then hires people who successfully complete the course.
Thrive’s hiring of the graduates already has had a sizeable economic impact for the employees and the community.
Thrive measured that impact by looking at data related to 19 Per Scholas graduates who have worked for the company for at least a year. The impact of the others will be measured later.
The company found that:
• Those 19 employees had an average annual compensation of $10,365 before working at Thrive. After 12 months, their average annual compensation, including benefits, was $49,648.
• Those employees also received a total of $140,001 in public assistance annually when they started.
• After a year, they no longer qualified for public assistance and were contributing $137,861 to the tax base.
• That’s a positive economic impact of $277,862 for the community.
“When we look at that model and the impact we’re able to have for our clients in providing new talent, the impact we can have on individuals and we look at the local economic impact, it’s just wins all the way around,” Kroeger said.
To help ensure new employees’ success, the Per Scholas graduates have been paired with 20 more senior-level IT professionals who can mentor them and help them continue to develop their skills.
The company aims to be an “IT talent incubator,” preparing its employees for other jobs, either working directly for the corporations that are Thrive’s customers or for other, bigger IT firms where they can continue to grow their careers.
There is such strong demand for IT professionals -- even with the number of IT jobs that still are outsourced to other countries -- that Dolan and Kroeger thought there needed to be a company could provide that starting point for people new to the industry.
“We all need IT resources, but we all want experienced IT talent,” Dolan said. “Our goal, which is the opposite of most companies, is that we’re advancing skill sets. We’re truly launching careers. We believe it’s success when another employer wants to hire away their analysts.”
‘I felt a little stuck before’
That’s what probably will happen soon with Taj Crooms.
Crooms, 23, has been working at Thrive since September of 2016. He started a couple of weeks after graduating from Per Scholas.
Crooms went to The Ohio State University right after he graduated from Walnut Hills High School. But it wasn’t the right fit for him, and he only lasted a semester.
He came home to Cincinnati after he left college, got an apartment in Clifton with some friends and began working restaurant jobs. The work was fun, he said, but he only earned $10 and hour with tips.
“It wasn’t really financially putting me where I needed to be,” Crooms said.
But since he completed Per Scholas and started working at Thrive, Crooms’ life has changed completely, he said.
“It pretty much quadrupled the amount of money I was making,” he said. “I bought my first car. I moved out. I’m definitely in the nicest apartment I’ve ever had now.”
Perhaps even more importantly, Crooms said he’s confident he has found a career full of opportunity that will allow him to live and work anywhere he wants.
“I feel like I’m not in a spot where I can’t move forward,” he said. “I felt a little stuck before, like I wasn’t living up to my potential.”
Crooms and Keiser, who both are quality assurance analysts at Thrive, said they get calls from recruiters all the time.
Keiser already is training to become a business analyst because she thinks it will be a better fit for her skills and still will give her plenty of opportunity.
As she trains, she is enjoying her job, her new financial stability and even the chance to pay her share of her kids’ medical bills instead of relying on government-funded insurance.
The job at Thrive has gone so well for her, in fact, that her 19-year-old daughter decided to take the Per Scholas course and is planning to work at the company, too.
“I have a lot more confidence now in myself and the things that I can do,” Keiser said. “There’s a lot of opportunities out there. And I don’t know that I’m afraid to go after any of them at this point.”
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. Poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.
To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.