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My First Set of Keys

February 17, 2011

by Catherine Meloy, President and CEO, Goodwill of Greater Washington; District of Columbia Advisory Board Member, The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region

“I’ve never had a set of keys before, because I never had any doors to open.”

These words were shared by “Nadine,” a Goodwill of Greater Washington graduate and employee, after recently receiving the keys to her first apartment. 

Nadine came to Goodwill in 2009 after spending most of her 45 years living on the streets, hustling drugs and abusing alcohol.  Following the tragic death of her mother, Nadine dropped out of school in the 7th grade, and her life began spiraling out of control.

While sitting in a halfway house after being released from prison two years ago, Nadine began to cry uncontrollably.  She came to the realization that she needed to turn her life around.  Nadine knew that if she remained on the path she was following, she would soon be dead.

After reading a flyer about one of Goodwill’s job training programs, Nadine picked up the phone and called us.   She credits that call with changing her life forever. 

Though Nadine’s story has a happy ending, her life could have ended very tragically like many people who simply lack the hope for a brighter future.  Hope that comes from the dignity and self respect that sustainable employment can provide.

Last week the House Appropriations Committee presented a proposal to reduce the FY 2011 national budget by $100 billion.  The single largest line item in that budget was a $3.8 billion cut in job-training programs.

While the regional unemployment rate is hovering at 6%, the unemployment rate in the capital area’s most underserved communities is much higher.  In the District’s Ward 8, the unemployment rate exceeds 25%.  Can you imagine if one out of every four people you knew were unemployed?  It’s no wonder that “hope” is such a difficult commodity to obtain.

On January 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service released data that further supports the need for increased spending, or at least the protection of spending, on job-training programs.  Over the past four years the number of Americans participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly referred to as food stamps), jumped by 65%, reaching 40 million in 2010.  And according to the Congressional Budget Office, food stamp assistance is not expected to drop as the national unemployment rate lingers near 9 percent this year.

While trying to control the deficit isn’t going to be easy, and all of us need to prepare for a little belt-tightening, such a large reduction in funding for workforce-development programs in the midst of a devastating recession seems counterproductive. 

The lower the unemployment rate, the lower the demand on tax payers to support other social services.  We all win!

Think of all the “Nadines” who can be helped by these programs.  Or worse, think of all the “Nadines” who won’t be helped if funding for job- training programs dries up.

Please contact your congressional representatives and urge them to keep workforce development funding in the 2011 budget.  These critical resources help put Americans back to work.

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