Helping Needy Help Each Other
They say that politics makes strange bedfellows, and, apparently, so does county government
The latest Guilford County initiative – dubbed Operation Roll Call – will bring homeless and/or unemployed veterans together with young adults in the county’s foster care program, and will partner with area colleges and private companies to provide job training and other support services to those vets and foster children.
The new program is also meant to help teach the vets and young adults job skills and life skills, and help them find employment through the partnerships with private companies.
Guilford County Social Services Director Robert Williams said he’s not aware of any other program in the country that unites these two disparate groups. He said that, while talking with Commissioner Bruce Davis about a new county program Davis was spearheading to aid area veterans, the idea was hatched to add older foster kids into the mix.
Williams said foster kids often lack adult guidance – something that could be offered by veterans who, in some cases, don’t have families themselves. Williams said the homeless and/or unemployed vets can serve as mentors to the foster kids who are about to enter the work force.
“In many cases, they have nobody to attach to,” Williams told the board, adding that providing older veterans as role models to work along side of the young adults would be a win all around.
The social services director said it would also benefit the foster children to get in the habit of showing up for work each day.
“It’s a big issue for us,” Williams said. “You’ve got to start preparing them.”
The program, which seems certain to get the green light from the Board of Commissioners, is expected to be based out of two county buildings in High Point that have gone unused for years – the Lifespan building and the former Evergreens nursing home. Those two adjacent buildings would form a learning “campus,” which, in a later phase of the program, may also house homeless veterans in the residential space of the Evergreens building.
Guilford County put both those properties up for sale several years ago. However, on Oct. 3, the Board of Commissioners, at Davis’ request, voted to take the buildings off the market while a business plan for the new program was put together.
The county will continue to own the Operation Roll Call campus, however, the program will be operated by nonprofit groups dedicated to helping vets. Davis said the new program will also offer help to veterans’ families.
According to Davis, the startup cost will be about $145,000, and after that the program should be “self-sustaining” – meaning the cost will be covered largely by federal grants. The business plan is still being put together and, if past county programs are any indication, the actual costs may vary a great deal from the projected costs.
The cost of adding a residential element to the program will be assessed at a later date, and at this point it’s not clear if that will prove cost prohibitive or not.
On Thursday, Jan. 16, the program was the subject of discussion at the Guilford County Board of Commissioners retreat, held at High Point University. Davis told the board the plans call for “a housing unit and a training pavilion,” that will “introduce solutions for target populations who are at various transitional points in their lives.”
A proposal to operate some aspects of the program is expected to come from the Triad Veteran and Military Resource Coalition, which is a collective of area service providers, veterans’ organizations, businesses and individuals that offers services and support to local veterans.
Davis said that, while Guilford County, area nonprofits and other groups currently offer programs for veterans, there’s no central broad-based training and residential facility in Guilford County that offers these services in one place to financially challenged veterans.
At the retreat, Davis told the board there were an estimated 100,000 veterans in the triad, and he added that many of those were unemployed, homeless or both.
Davis has been working to bring in as many partners as possible to Operation Roll Call.
At the retreat, Davis read a letter stating support from Red Hat Inc., a Raleigh-based open-source software development company that’s now focusing on cloud computing.
Davis said, “We’re talking about a national company, an international company – this is a very serious project that we have undertaken.”
The letter is signed by Red Hat Training Senior Manager Mark Howson, who states he’s pleased Guilford County intends to provide business education and technology training to service men and women and their families – as well as to young men and women who are on the verge of aging out of the county’s foster care program and are preparing to enter the workforce.
Howson wrote, “When plans for the Life Span building are approved, the Academy model that Red Hat will partner with the [Raleigh-based nonprofit] Nehemiah Schools of Technology and Entrepreneurship and bring to the facility will include diverse population recruitment and training for RH technology certifications. RH Certified Graduates in this region can typically expect entry level earnings of $30,000 or more annually. Nehemiah expects to commence enrollment activity in March of 2014 for the Fall 2014 school year; we will begin work with Nehemiah to secure scholarships.
“I look forward to recruiting, graduating, hiring and promoting the Guilford County location as a national model to assist Red Hat and our customers, strategic partners and vendors that need to meet human capital development demands from surrounding communities.”
In addition to the support of Red Hat, Davis said, the new venture will partner with North Carolina A&T State University. Davis said he has been working with scientists at that school who will help implement programs teaching agricultural skills to those enrolled in the program.
Davis said he hopes that bringing veterans and foster kids together will create a dynamic atmosphere and generate a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
“You will have veterans mentoring youths out of foster care,” Davis said.
At the retreat, Davis told the board that the majority of his years in the Marines was as a recruiter and, during that time, he had recruited many foster children for service in the military.
“Some were on the streets and the only family they knew was the Army or the Navy,” the former Marine recruiter said.
Davis said he wants program participants to repair and renovate properties that Guilford County has acquired through foreclosure. Many of the houses, Davis said, can be fixed up by veterans and foster kids who are simultaneously learning skills such as carpentry, plumbing and construction.
At the retreat, county staff informed the commissioners that Guilford County currently has about 40 houses and other property for sale, and about half of those are not currently marketable for one reason or another. Davis’ plan calls for the veterans to work along side the foster children to repair and renovate those houses. They will be taught skills as they do the work according to Davis’ plan.
At the meeting, Williams said he thought it would be a good transitional step for foster children who were reaching the ages of 18, 19 and 20 and were about ready to seek full-time jobs.
Williams said that, too often, foster kids age out of the Department of Social Services care and end up unemployed or incarcerated.
Chairman of the Board of Commissioner Bill Bencini said he thinks the board is supportive of the initiative. But, he added, there are many details that need to be worked out before the county opens the doors of the ambitious program.
Davis said this week he isn’t married to the idea of having the program in the Lifespan and Evergreens buildings. He also said it doesn’t need to be in High Point, a city in which many of Davis’ constituents live. Guilford County government owns a lot of vacant office space and training space around the county.
Davis said the important thing is that the county’s veterans and foster children have access to the training, shelter and aid the program will provide.
Both the Lifespan and Evergreens building have sat idle for years, and have been the scene of much vandalism. In fact, Davis said, one reason he wants to use those buildings is because having a program of any sort based out of them would help put an end to the constant vandalism.
County officials said this week that while those two properties were listed for sale, they drew very little interest from potential buyers.
BY Scott D. Yost
January 23, 2014
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