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Innovation & Job News

Win Win: $300,000 for a new jobs program at University City District

JOIN presents UCD with a large grant

A landscaped median on University Avenue

Many who want to work face challenges such as poverty, long-time unemployment, or transitioning to life outside the criminal justice system. They may not be ready for the traditional workforce, but they’re adults with the capacity to build skills given the right mentorship. Enter a new landscaping program from University City District (UCD), which just received a $300,000 two-year seed grant.
The Green City Works employment initiative -- which earned a $50,000 planning grant last year -- is now officially launching with support from the Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN), a program of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. JOIN awarded the nascent program (an extension of the existing West Philadelphia Skills Initiative) that planning grant in January 2015; 24 regional organizations competed for four awards.

The grant program was dubbed the Win-Win Challenge because it aimed to build a win-win scenario for workers and employers. The local nonprofit community was invited to "come to us with new ideas around partnership…that seek to address actual business needs," explains JOIN Executive Director Jennie Sparandara. But at the same time, they wanted to help those who most need a leg up in the workforce.

JOIN assessed the four grantees one year later, determining who was ready to translate their plans into action. Green City Works, a nonprofit landscaping venture, was the clearly prepared for the next step.

"UCD is really recognizing that not everybody…is ready for work with a big employer," says Sparandara of the program’s appeal to JOIN. "[They] need a safe space to learn on the job, with practical skill-building and workplace coaching designed to help participants progress in their careers beyond Green City Works. With UCD, the hope is to connect them with these big institutional employers in the Philadelphia area."

"From JOIN’s perspective, we’re interested in learning how these positions can serve as an entrée into the trade,” adds JOIN Program Manager Hoa Pham.

According to Sparandara, UCD was able to demonstrate and articulate "a very clear vision for how they wanted to use funding to build out this program…They are open to and interested in learning and growing along with us as funders.This fits very well with JOIN’s mission as seed-funders and a learning community.

The project will formally launch on March 22, with JOIN dollars beginning to flow this month.

In the future, we’ll take a look at how Green City Works grew from the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative and the program’s specific goals over the next two years.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jennie Sparandara and Hoa Pham, JOIN 

The Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) has partnered with Flying Kite to explore how good jobs are created and filled in Greater Philadelphia. Stay tuned as we follow the progress of these exciting grants and track the city's continued workforce development challenges.

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