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A H​elping Hand, and a Veritable Life Line

July 13, 2006 By:
Jan L. Apple, JF Feature
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A Federation-funded initiative, "Helping Hands," which offers vocational skills training in the Jewish community, has helped the unemployed and underemployed move toward self-sufficiency.

This is in keeping with Federation's Center for Social Responsibility initiatives that strengthen and enhance skills, giving people the vital tools to become independent.

"Helping Hands" serves people under 65 in Northeast Philadelphia most in need of employment. In its second year, it's a collaborative effort among multiple agencies in the Jewish community, including the partnering of Jewish Employment and Vocational Service and Jewish Family and Children's Service. Community partners also include the Jewish Community Centers, HIAS and Council Migration and Federation Early Learning Services.

Another successful program, "Working for Success," targets low-income, single Jewish mothers, helping them transition into the work force. "Through JEVS, these women have been able to access a cadre of services enabling them to enter or re-enter the job market in a position of strength," explained Kristen Rantanen, JEVS vice president, communications and public affairs.

JEVS offers an array of services to meet clients' needs: vocational; and skills training, résumé preparation, job placement and support services like counseling and tutoring.

"The beauty of these programs is that clients can get referrals directly to JEVS skills-training programs," said Rantanen.

According to Sheva Cohen, Federation senior planner, "JEVS has been a wonderful team player in bringing their agency's strengths to the table."

'A Chance for Upward Mobility'

Such strengths are evident and tangible with "Helping Hands" in providing invaluable vocational training through the Orleans Technical Institute of JEVS in Northeast Philadelphia and Center City. In the Northeast, students enroll in courses in building trades, culinary and food preparation. At the Center City location, students can earn an associate's degree in court reporting.

"Last year, we served nearly 1,200 people in our building trades, in those two programs," stated Rantanen. "In our sales and customer-service programs at the King of Prussia Mall, and at 22nd and Arch streets, we helped 1,600."

"We are giving people a chance for upward mobility," explained Bonnie Kaye, director of program development at OTI's Northeast Campus. "We have the right courses that match the needs in the community, and have had tremendous success. Last year, our job placement was at 92 percent of the available graduates from July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2005."

Kaye believes their success is a direct result of the great demand in the housing industry for an array of technical skills within building trades, which students hone at OTI. These include courses in air-conditioning, refrigeration and heating; building maintenance; carpentry; electricity, and plumbing and heating.

Rantanen describes most students as "nontraditional," such as a high school dropout, someone downsized from a job, the underemployed or women re-entering the work force. "In many cases, this may be their second or third chance," she said.

Recently, as a result of a community partnership between Federation and Citizens Bank Foundation, JEVS received $60,125 for scholarships to be awarded to those most in need to attend OTI. Three recipients have already been designated.

The OTI is far different than going to college for a four-year degree, noted Kaye, emphasizing that when one graduates from college there is no direct link with a job in their chosen profession. At OTI, training goes hand in hand with employment acquisition.

Kaye has also witnessed entrepreneurial opportunities that students have created amongst themselves.

"We are leveraging Federation's investment with our expertise in vocational counseling and job search assistance to help people get ahead and pave the way for a bright future," said Rantanen. "We are opening doors and offering resources that they otherwise would not have."

Info? Call 215-832-0818.

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