WINNSBORO — Community leaders and leaders from the faith community gathered at Gordon Memorial for the Strategic Networking Call to Action Luncheon and their business that day was business.
Pastor Eugene Sutton chaired luncheon on April 5, directing discussion for ways to better the community such as increasing the employablity of community members, bettering education and improving housing.
If those things occur, the county can be poised to grow as the South Carolina economy rebounds from the Great Recession but time is of the essence, according to Sutton.
Combating apathy is huge because the longer employment evades people, the more likely they are to give up the job search and instead become dependent on government programs to provide for them, according to County Council Chairman David Ferguson.
He continued that there needs to be a cultural change in the trend he observed of the workers who were hired by CBnI and others who stopping working at the first major obstacle to overcome.
Ferguson pointed out hurdles and problems for the county for which there might be no quick fixes but that need action. Dropouts, the underemployed, the unemployed, the under-trained and those with criminal records are the groups these men and women want to give the means to better themselves.
Ferguson touted the Midlands Tech Quickjobs Center as an important piece of the puzzle for educating young people and helping older workers retool. In 2013-14 the center will house the entire first year programming so students can go there a year and then complete the remainder of their degree or certification at the Columbia MTC campus.
Jackie Workman spoke of her role as a county liaison to help people overcome barriers to employment, to show them there is hope and that they can, and should, work to better themselves no matter how long it takes.
Noting that 80 percent of jobs between now and 2040 are projected to be technical jobs, she said it is important to steer young people to technical colleges if that option best suits them.
By 2018, 3,000 jobs will come online at V.C. Summer and 600 to 800 subsidiary jobs will emerge once the plant is operational. The key is preparing residents of Fairfield County now so they and the county can reap those benefits when the time comes, Workman said.
Tonya Jones with the Workforce Investment Act explained how that program offers opportunity for individuals to receive training in a marketable job skill. This is open to youth ages 18 to 21, open to adults who qualify and to the unemployed. It utilizes Midlands Tech training assistance among other resources.
Tommy Scott, director of the re-entry program at the S.C. Department of Pardon, Probation and Parole Services, said he helps people who have made mistakes realize they cannot change the past but they can make positive choices moving forward.
Michael Barr with DSS and Project Hope explained federal scholarship programs for individuals on the SNAP or TAN assistance programs. It is hoped that project will break a cycle in Fairfield County where workers deal with second generation welfare recipients.
Instead of that being the end goal scenario for them, through Project Hope they could receive training up to a nursing degree at no cost to them.
Timothy Abrams with S.C. Department of Vocational Rehabilitation reached out to those with disabilities. His program is about impacting clients’ lives and giving them assistance and advocacy as they receive free job training services. His office only can do so much, he said, but the individual has to be willing to embrace challenges, learn and make something of him or herself.
Melissa Russell, owner and operator of Winnsboro’s only massage therapy office, can vouch for Project Hope. She said she wants to be a catalyst to help build the community back up. Before she opened her own business, she was in the WIA program after a 10-year career in manufacturing.
Now certified as a massage therapist on Congress Street, she continues to better herself by going to occupational therapy school.
Rudolph Walker spoke of parenting problems and gains being made by the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition in Fairfield County. Community organizer Kevin Gray wanted to know the population growth, the percentage of lifelong Fairfield residents and demographics so a path to progress could be seen more clearly.
Members were led in a group building exercise by County Councilman Kamau Marcharia that involved silently sharing things about themselves such as if they had ever been fired, arrested, beaten or mistreated.
One person commented how the activity opened his eyes that a lot of good people can be fired. Breaking down barriers and supporting one another through times of economic hardship were themes of a strategic networking call to action luncheon Friday.
Rudolph Walker said motivation needs to come from the home and Jenkinsville resident Earnestine Rabb agreed.
“It takes commitment to build up this area and it will be the meetings after this meeting that make that happen,” she said.
The group is considering putting a committee together to form a two-year plan to investigate the state of county housing and work force and then to come up with ideas to invest in the community.