Long history, refocused future at Greater Stark County Urban League

In 1920, the organization that evolved into the Greater Stark County Urban League was founded and started a long legacy of service to our community. A lot has changed over the years, and the needs of our community also have changed.

However, the five pillars of the Urban League have remained the same: workforce development, education, housing, health and social justice.

Early last year, Diane Robinson assumed the position of executive director and a number of new board members were added. We felt the Urban League was an anchor organization in the southeast part of Canton and was critical to the success of the community’s efforts to establish a community clinic as part of the “Invest Health” effort.

This effort is a partnership of Canton City Schools, Mercy Medical Center, the city of Canton and Stark Community Foundation. Not only will there be a clinic, but also a dentist, day care, education and mental health services.

Because this effort supports our five pillars, the Urban League will be leading the workforce development components of the Invest Health strategy. Some individuals trying to enter the workforce need additional supports or assistance to gain and retain long-term employment.

In working with the Stark Economic Development Board (as an outgrowth of the Strengthening Stark efforts), we are identifying employers that have job openings that will elevate people to new opportunities. OhioMeansJobs also is assisting in job location and training for job seekers.

What is missing is a way for the person looking for a job to put the pieces together and the support for putting the puzzle together. For many people living in poverty, they have no resources to pick up any slack. If their car breaks down or another issue arises and they cannot get to work, they lose their job. Or the individual does not have the specific skills to find a job. Some do not even know where to start.

For these people, the Urban League is a known and trusted resource.

What is needed are job “navigators.” The job navigator will help job seekers connect to training for employment. They also will link the individual with support services, like child care and housing.

The Urban League will work with SARTA if the individual has a transportation issue. For example, SARTA’s new “Success Express” will give individuals access to jobs starting at 6 a.m. for the first time ever. With the job navigator having access to many support services and a supportive employer, we can help them be successful in the new employment situation.

For the Urban League and many other organizations in our community, Strengthening Stark has inspirited a new level or coordination and cooperation among the private sector, nonprofits and government. With this refocus of the community on workforce development, the Urban League is relaunching our services focusing on our new job navigator program.

As with any new initiative, the dreaded money discussion occurs. Over the last couple of weeks, a fundraising committee was formed. We have been banging on doors and shaking the money tree. We are sure people are tired of our phone calls and requests.

All of this effort is leading to our Black and White Ball, which will be held Feb. 29 in Canton. The keynote speaker will the Stark County native and current Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

You might ask, what makes the job navigator strategy different of what has been done in the past or what other organizations are doing. This efforts is focused on serving individuals who were not successful in gaining or keeping employment in more traditional methods.

As more and more employment searches are electronic, a greater divide has been created between those who have access to technology and the knowledge of how to use it and those who do not. This program will reach out to the people in that latter group and give them the tools needed to be successful.

We ask that you help us in this effort. Please join us at the Black and White Ball on Feb. 29. You can contact the Greater Stark County Urban League at 330-754-1576 or visit our website — StarkUrbanLeague.org — to find out how you can support us in this effort.

Diane Robinson is interim CEO and president of the Greater Stark County Urban League. Kirt Conrad is president and executive director of SARTA and a member of the Urban League’s board of directors.

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