Sometimes, it seems like we’ve hit the pause button. Daily routines and long-awaited plans have been put on hold. We all feel the distinct loss of not being able to move freely in our cities and visit with friends and family. For too many, the pandemic and our collective pause have caused a life-changing loss of economic stability. Loss of employment, loss of income, and loss of savings, all happening at a time when growing income inequality was already pushing the limits of financial solvency for many. When we hit the pause button, our neighbors — particularly our Black, Hispanic, and Latinx neighbors who are disproportionately affected by the virus — face new and extreme challenges in making ends meet.
The foundation’s work in Central Texas and Boston is centered on the idea of creating consistently accessible pathways to prosperity for families living with low incomes. These two large urban metro areas had no shortage of similarities in the pre-pandemic world: both cities are growing tech hubs outside of Silicon Valley; both are focused on skills and training programs so more people can get family-sustaining jobs in healthcare, manufacturing, and skilled trades; both cities are major urban hubs surrounded by growing urban areas. And the rhyming factor of Austin-Boston has yet to get old.
What is also true about both cities is that we have had the privilege of supporting workforce development organizations that spun (and keep spinning) on a dime to support youth and students during this pandemic. In both cities, we hear stories of resilient people who are taking courses, gaining new skills, and moving on to available essential jobs. Here are some of their stories.
Paulina, a HealthCorps student in Austin, was just weeks away from completing a GED program when COVID-19 threatened to disrupt those plans. She was left without a clear path to complete the clinical requirements as the pandemic closed doors to local health centers. But Paulina was determined to stay on track. With support from American YouthWorks, she was able to access the resources needed to continue distance learning, and became the program’s very first “virtual” graduate. Through a partnership with Austin Community College (ACC), American YouthWorks began offering virtual clinicals to ensure healthcare training could continue, and Paulina is now in the final stages of training as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).
Jewish Vocational Services
Sanae worked hard to complete the JVS Boston Nursing Aide training program and passed the CNA exam in March. A few days later, Massachusetts shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving Sanae with a new credential but with no childcare support to help as she started the journey to research, find, and apply to new jobs. In early April, JVS Boston launched its Talent Match Portal, which connects job seekers to employers – all online. To date, 100 employers have posted 300 job openings and 350 job seekers have registered. Sanae worked with a JVS Career Navigator to register and begin receiving job leads, and soon landed a CNA job at nearly double the minimum wage in Massachusetts with an employer that is flexible around her childcare needs.
More Than Words
More Than Words (MTW) empowers young adults in Greater Boston who are in the foster care system, court-involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a small business, managing two bookstores, bookselling pop-ups, and an event space. Due to the impact of COVID-19, MTW closed its doors in mid-March and shifted to an online bookselling business. Despite the uncertainty of this time, Ryder, a Senior Partner at MTW, felt confident taking on the unknown with the support of MTW’s newly implemented virtual workshops for standard curriculum, weekly team meetings, and a variety of new elective workshops. “Being able to work from home where I feel comfortable and safe and being able to still work and pay my bills has been wonderful,” Ryder said. Importantly, Ryder doesn’t feel alone. “Even though I am not physically there it makes me feel a lot better to see everyone’s face because it feels like a family to me.”
Pablo enrolled in Skillpoint Alliance’s pre-apprentice electrical program this spring to build a better and more stable future for his growing family in Central Texas. Pablo, an expectant first-time father, is committed to rebuilding his life after choices he made when he was young led him to prison. Since his release, Pablo has been diligent in fulfilling his responsibilities and planning for a stable future. A friend referred him to Skillpoint Alliance, where he received four weeks of online instruction to prepare him to enter the industry as a first-year apprentice electrician. To help students continue their studies through the pandemic, Skillpoint Alliance provided “student kits” with tools, equipment, safety gear, conduit, conduit benders, and plywood so that every student could learn at home. Within a matter of weeks, Pablo became a member of the local electrical union, and is now able to provide health insurance for his new child and begin a lifelong journey in the skilled trades.
We do not yet know what our world at work will look like when medical treatment and vaccination for COVID-19 becomes widely available. What we do know is that what we collectively aspire to build in a post-COVID-19 world requires we act with the flexibility of our electrical students, bending conduit over Zoom; with the strength of our nursing students, pushing through coursework to do their part in this battle against the virus; and the hope of a recently unemployed young person, clicking ‘submit’ on their application to earn their college degree online.
If you have a request for funding that is related to COVID-19, please know that we are committed to fighting this pandemic and its subsequent economic fallout. Our immediate available funding has gone to accelerating the development of therapies, increasing the supply of PPE in Texas, stabilizing small business, and assisting our portfolio of current grantees.