Life and Job Skills Training: "The Extension Connection"

Support Increased Economic Opportunities and Improved Quality of Life in Rural America
Research Year: 
2006
Issue: 

There is a need in the Phoenix metropolitan area for "welfare-to-work" type programs. Extension Connection was developed when a local Cooperative Extension agent recognized a dire need for the addition of life management skills along with nutrition education in programs for families. The Extension Connection components added a special touch to an already existing program called Successful Training Resource Individual Development or otherwise known as Project S.T.R.I.D.E. at Keys Community Center. This program promotes workforce development in a South Phoenix high-crime, at-risk area.

Description of Action: 

The Extension Connection program enhances life skills and promotes workforce development of low-income families by providing a series of educational experiences that promote self-sufficiency. Families learn job development skills, nutrition, and money management. The program uses a variety of Cooperative Extension programs such as Money Management, Life Skills and Nutrition and a series of educational experiences called Challenge to enhance the skills and abilities of families towards self-sufficiency.

The program reaches people who are at risk: unemployed, underemployed, unskilled, young dropouts, ex-prisoners, drug and alcohol addicts, and young mothers. Participants in the program have ranged from former gang members to newly arrived immigrants to the United States whose lack of English and American job skills caused significant barriers to employment. Ninety-five percent of the program graduates are members of racial or ethnic minorities, 60 percent have had less than a high school education; many have criminal records. Many of the participants have returned to help as volunteers and mentors, and three are now employed as staff.

In 2005, the KEYS Community Center spent a large amount of time revamping the center and programs, as well as applying for grants for Extension Connection (STRIDE). The result of this long term (1997) collaboration of Keys and Extension Connection was to have monies awarded: $50,000 from various groups; the private sector; DES through Creative Innovations and New Century Collaborations; also $60,000 additional monies waiting approval from Latino Coalition for 2006.

Impact: 

During the past seven years more than 550 high-risk adults from a low-income community, including 95 percent of those enrolled in 2005-06, have graduated from the Extension Connection program. More than 325 have been employed for over a year. Many participants have returned to the site to help as volunteers and mentors, and some are now employed at the site as staff. For some participants, this was the first time they were free of drugs, free of gang affiliations and showed up daily for classes. Due to changes in administration at Keys Community Center, just 50 people participated in 2005-2006, compared to previous years. Of these, 100 percent showed improvement in working with others positively; more than 95 percent learned at least two skills that boosted their self-esteem and completed the goals they set at the beginning of the session. All participants set goals at the beginning of the program, and 85 percent had completed these goals by the end of the program. Chase Bank, US Bank, and City of Phoenix, are all on board to help with jobs. Regarding dietary changes, upon graduation, 85 percent of participants in 2006 learned to plan meals.

One STRIDE/Extension Connection graduate became a counselor at a drug rehab home helping other women get off the street. "STRIDE put pride in my eyes," she says. Another graduate credits the Connection program with helping her focus on goals, setting reachable steps and believing she could succeed. She connected with a local small business development center after her training, and now owns and operates her own neighborhood beauty salon. One former drug addict is now a leader in the community and director of a company.

"The Extension Connection helped me to bridge the gap in society for me, to make the transition to a new life smoother." -former prison inmate who wanted to improve his life with skills for living and get a decent job

Funding Agencies: 

EFNEP; Southwest Leadership Foundation; DES: Creative Innovations and New Century Collaboration; Big O Tires

Conact Name: 
Ruth Jackson
Contact E-mail: 
Contact Address: 

Maricopa County Cooperative Extension

4341 E. Broadway Road

Phoenix, AZ 85040-8807

Tel.: (602) 470-8086, FAX: (602) 470-8092