CINCINNATI — As people struggle to get back to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, populations with barriers to employment, like mental and physical health issues, have struggled the most. Fortunately, IKRON, a local nonprofit in Clifton, has still been fighting for them through the shutdown.
The organization has had to refit its programs to meet the needs of stay-at-home orders, social distancing and health policies, but they're still working to help the youth and adults they work with live a stable and fulfilling life. They provide educational programs where people can complete a GED or college courses, and help those they serve find employment.
"The majority of individuals we serve have some type of barrier that is holding them back from completing their education or obtaining employment," said Randy Strunk, CEO of IKRON. "It could be a mental health issue like anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression. It could be developmental issues. Sensory types of issues. We work a lot with youth that have autism."
Their services were deemed essential during the shutdown, so the organization never stopped. They've implemented telehealth programming options and incorporated precautions for times when meeting in person was necessary.
"Having staggering schedules is helping the kids to maintain that social distancing. We also have a spacious building here, so we have big rooms that we’ve been marking off 6-feet distances so kids can participate," said Strunk.
It hasn't been easy weathering the pandemic. Cheryl Krumman, placement coordinator for the organization, watched as many of the individuals the organization serves lost the very jobs she helped to place them in when restrictions closed restaurants and many retail stores.
"They were so proud of themselves for having this forward momentum, and then having that taken away," she said. "To no fault of anyone. Not the employers or themselves."
So she and the organization pivoted to continue to help them the best way she could. She guided many through the unemployment process and helped to find new jobs for those who could work.
"It was a whole new challenge of helping them figure out how to apply for unemployment and jump through those hoops, which was super challenging," said Strunk. "If they were comfortable working, trying to get them into jobs in places that were still hiring and still open."