A nonprofit that serves more than a half-dozen Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods is transforming the scope of its work with the launch of a new workforce development program.
Southwest Works is a collaboration between the Southwest Partnership, the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED) and the Baltimore Local Casino Development Council. Leading the effort is Southwest Baltimore resident and community advocate Rachel Goodrich, who was hired by the MOED to serve as a “career navigator” for Southwest Works.
Goodrich has lived in Southwest Baltimore for about a year and a half, but has been “heavily involved” there for more than three years, she said, attending a church in the area and working as a mentor for local youth in sports programs.
Her new position gives her a broad range of duties, including resume-building, computer skills training, skills assessments, jobs searches and referring clients to other services. Despite her diverse job description, her chief goal is fairly simple: Connecting residents of Southwest Partnership neighborhoods with jobs that fit their skills and availability.
In her time spent living and working there, Goodrich has seen the impact that employment can have in underserved neighborhoods.
“Workforce development really can be a huge anchor in a lot of people’s lives,” she said.
She’s only worked as a career navigator for a month, but she saw even in her first couple weeks how residents’ attitudes toward finding work changed when they had someone coaching them through the search process.
“Just encouraging people, connecting them with different resources…just giving them some confidence and giving them different tools along the way definitely helps,” Goodrich said.
The Southwest Partnership first formed in 2012 as a coalition of neighborhood leaders opposed to a high concentration of drug treatment clinics in their section of the city. Over the next several years, the group widened its focus and eventually adopted an official master plan in 2015.
Today, it comprises seven neighborhoods (Barre Circle, Franklin Square, Hollins Roundhouse, Mount Clare, Pigtown, Poppleton and Union Square) and six anchor institutions, including the University of Maryland Medical System and Bon Secours Baltimore Health System. Its mission to create a “cohesive community” and empower those neighborhoods through partnerships with city agencies, organizations and local businesses.
Elizabeth Weber, a program officer for the Southwest Partnership, said the nonprofit spent about a year focusing on the issue of workforce development before officially launching Southwest Works. In that time, she said more job resources became available to residents. Bringing those resources to their clients with help from a career navigator puts them one step closer to steady employment, she said.
“From a longer-term perspective, when folks have access to resources that work for them in their communities, meet their needs where they’re coming from, they get jobs,” Weber said.
Individuals’ needs vary, Goodrich said, from transportation to available hours and family situations. The differences in clients’ availability mean Southwest Works’ hours will remain flexible.
“We want to be able to meet the needs of the community, break down some barriers and get a more individual, one-to-one relationship with as many community members as we can,” she said.
Weber said it’s the one-on-one connections that make their work effective. “Relationships are the most important thing,” she said.
Workforce development is fairly new territory for the Southwest Partnership, but Weber says the collaboration with the mayor’s office gives them another way to work closely with residents. “Knowing we can connect with MOED on workforce development, and that we can enter the community to build trust is really cool,” she said.
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