Support Increased Economic Opportunities and Improved Quality of Life in Rural America
Life and Job Skills Training: "The Extension Connection"
Over the past five years more than 500 high-risk adults from a low-income Phoenix community (more than 80 percent of those enrolled) have graduated from “The Extension Connection” workforce development program; more than 200 have been employed for more than a year, and many of the participants have overcome drug addictions and gang affiliations.
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.
What has been done?
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, 40 percent have had less than a high school education; many have criminal records. Twenty-five people participated in 2005. 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.
During the past four years more than 500 high-risk adults from a low-income community, including 90 percent of those enrolled in 2005, have graduated from the Extension Connection program. More than 200 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. In 2005, of the 25 people who completed the program, 100 percent showed improvement in working with others positively; more than 90 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 70 percent had completed these goals by the end of the program.
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.
Regarding dietary changes, upon graduation, 74 percent of the participants in 2002 reported that they ate a more balanced and nutritious diet, including increased amounts of fruits and vegetables and fewer foods high in fat and sugar. In 2003, 49 percent of participants planned meals ahead of time more often.
“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.
Southwest Leadership Foundation
DES: Creative Innovations and New Century Collaborations
Ruth Jackson, extension EFNEP program coordinator
The University of Arizona
Maricopa County Cooperative Extension
4341 E. Broadway Road
Phoenix, AZ 85040-8807
Tel.: (602) 470-8086, FAX: (602) 470-8092
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