‘Inspire Center’ opens to combat poverty, help people gain jobs

Submitted photoMayor William Barlow Jr. opened the city’s new Inspire Center for Workforce Development on Sept. 5. From left in photo are Rental Assistance Program staff Dee Wills, Jen Gallagher and Chris Schoolcraft, Barlow, Rental Assistance Program staffer Missy Hoefer, program director Nathan Emmons, Common Council member Kevin Hill and office manager for Avery Rental Properties Sue Henry.

OSWEGO - The new Inspire Center, a new workforce development center, has opened in the city of Oswego.

Mayor William Barlow Jr. opened the new center Sept. 5 at the city’s Section 8 Rental Assistance HUD Housing Program at 159 Liberty St., Oswego.

The center is part of the city’s efforts to combat poverty and better connect individuals to employment opportunities and additional resources.

The Inspire Center, paid for with a $15,000 allocation in the 2019 city budget, includes four computer workstations, a printer/copier/fax machine, a 55-inch television for job postings and employment opportunities, programs and materials from nearby employers and a new website.

The Inspire Center has a new software system that will be used to track and maintain goal settings for clients, can immediately link community services to participant needs, allows for customized questionnaires to develop training/employment needs, generates referral lists, develops a path to self sufficiency plans and tracks the progress for clients.

The center will serve as a centralized location for city staff to work directly with clients on finding job opportunities, securing long term meaningful employment and working towards a path of self-sufficiency.

The creation of the new Inspire Center is the latest change Oswego has made to the Rental Assistance Program in the last few years.

In 2017, Barlow announced the Rental Assistance Program would be separated from the Office of Economic Development and would be fully staffed, naming Nathan Emmons as director of the program in January 2018.

In 2018, Barlow proposed, and the Common Council adopted, major changes to the Rental Assistance Program priority ranking system by placing a preference on individuals currently employed, going to school or enrolled in a vocational training program higher on the ranking system.

At the time, Barlow said changing the ranking criteria and placing people partially employed or going to school would reward individuals for trying to work their way out of poverty and would allow the city’s Rental Assistance Program to have a more positive impact on the community.

Barlow said the changes were part of other comprehensive reforms aimed at making the program more of a helpful “hand up” program rather than a government “hand out” program.

The city of Oswego signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a local company, Northland Filter, who received a $100,000 grant to do an expansion and hire up to 40 people, to directly connect clients for employment opportunities.

“In three years, we’ve made significant changes to our Section 8 Rental Assistance HUD housing program, all in an effort to position our residents to find and keep meaningful employment and place them on a track to self sufficiency,” Barlow said. “The Inspire Center will give city government an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with our clients, assist them with their situations, find them a job, prepare them for interviews, and stand by them once they are employed.”

“In addition to lifting our clients out of poverty, we’ve made changes to improve the housing standards associated with our program, placed a priority on helping the homeless and those with disabilities, included an emergency system to assist victims of domestic violence, incorporated the Violence Against Women Act language into our program, and made other changes to our program to lift people out of poverty, better position them to success and break the cycle of generational poverty in the Oswego community,” Barlow said.

“Our job is to help empower people to become more self sufficient,” Emmons said. “Through Mayor Barlow’s vision, the recent changes to our program policies, and the tools offered through the Inspire Center, we can provide more resources and opportunities for people to learn about themselves, develop critical skills and be successful as they look to find suitable employment.”

Combating poverty in the Oswego community has been a major focus for Barlow and city government recently. In 2016, Oswego was awarded a $500,000 Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative to address poverty and develop pilot programs in the area.

Barlow appointed a local committee, called the LIFT committee, to develop a strategy focused on helping people become employable, connect them to resources and place them on a path to self sufficiency. The grant was used to partner with Oswego County Opportunities to develop service hub in downtown Oswego for individuals relying on government services, funded a “Bridge to Hope” program through the Oswego Salvation Army, a housing program through Victory Transformation, a transportation initiative partnership with Oswego Health and other anti-poverty initiatives.

The city of Oswego Section 8 Rental Assistance HUD housing office and the new Inspire Center can be contacted by phone at (315) 343-3452 Monday through Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The Inspire Center will include evening hours for clients until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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