Monday, May 5, 2014

Opportunity. Education. Success.

Pam Brookshire, CANI's Vice President of Community Services, wrote this post for Inside CANI. 

It’s graduation season. If you're like me, you've probably been receiving invitations for ceremonies and parties to celebrate the success of the students in your lives. These invitations make me think about my 17-year old daughter who is a junior in high school. She’s in the beginning stages of choosing a university. Though which school she will attend is still unknown, what is known and expected is that she’ll go to college and attain a four-year degree. That’s been the expectation since she was a minute old and her father and I have worked hard to ensure she has the opportunity.

I juxtapose her situation with the young people in our JAG program. (JAG stands for Jobs for America’s Graduates). Funded and supported by Northeast Indiana Works, CANI employs JAG Specialists who work with high school juniors and seniors who are in danger of not graduating from high school. This year CANI is working with 560 students in 14 high schools across northeastern and north central Indiana.

There are a myriad of reasons why students in the JAG program are at risk of not graduating: lack of credits, poor attendance, etc. JAG is a class that the students take, just like math and English. The CANI JAG Specialists lead the class and work with each student to first, get them to graduation and second, lead them to a career goal and a plan to get there.

Unlike my daughter, many of these children grow up without the expectation or a dream of going to college. Many of them live in poverty, with all the stress and chaos it brings. Some of them are already parents themselves or have parents who were too young when they were born. Many of their parents and grandparents never went to college and may not understand the value of an education. In our country, the quickest, surest path to poverty is to become a teenage parent and/or drop out of high school. The JAG program aims to curtail poverty by helping students avoid these causes of it.

With the JAG program, students are provided a multitude of experiences, a support system, and the tools to achieve a successful post-secondary career. The JAG Specialists work hard to assess each student and then develop a plan to get and keep them on track to graduation. They do this through classroom instruction and one-on-one mentoring.

The Specialists do all they can to inspire these kids to find their calling and pursue it. There are classroom speakers, college fairs, college visits, job shadows, and paid internships during the summer. When students discover a career that they wish to pursue, the JAG Specialists help them find the right college and ways to pay for it. Not every JAG participant goes to college, by choice or anything else. Many go right to work and even more join the military. Once the students graduate, the JAG Specialists provide one year of follow up to ensure that they have all the support they need to remain on their paths.

JAG not only focuses on education, it provides opportunities to develop leadership and employment skills. There are two events each year where students improve their public
CANI JAG student Emari Carroll from Marion High
School accepts an award from Commissioner
Scott Sanders of the Indiana Department
of Workforce Development.
speaking, writing, interviewing, marketing, and leadership skills. The students learn different styles of leadership and participate in team-building activities with the Indiana National Guard. During the Career Development Conference (CDC), students from each high school compete against one another for the chance to move on to the state level. This year, CANI’s JAG students earned eight awards at the state competition!

As an anti-poverty advocate for 27 years, JAG is one of my favorite programs. For one, JAG truly addresses one of the main causes of poverty: lack of a high school diploma and post-secondary education. Second, JAG provides opportunities for young people to aspire to something and take control of their futures. JAG changes lives in ways that other anti-poverty programs are not able to because it helps young people early in their adult lives. The success is evident in the numbers. In the 2012 - 2013 school-year, students in the JAG program achieved a 92 % graduation rate and a 76 % full time job and military placement rate!

How can you help? Advocate for additional funding at the state and federal levels and donate to CANI directly. Governor Mike Pence has taken a serious interest in JAG and has provided state funding to all JAG programs in Indiana. This funding allowed CANI to go from 9 high schools to 14, 360 kids to 560. However, there are a lot more students out there that need what the JAG program offers.

My heart breaks for all the young people in our state who don’t have any dreams or hope for their futures. I wish that every child had the support and means to achieve their career goals as my daughter does. But that isn’t the reality - yet. Until then, I’ll watch with pride and honor as the 560 students in the current CANI JAG program graduate high school and work toward making their dreams come true.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Are You A Community Hero?

My favorite superhero character has always been Captain America. I think it's partly because he was in the military (which I've always loved) and partly because his name is Steve, like me. But more than that, Captain America is passionate about his cause. He is always willing to give up his life for his country, freedom, and the safety of other people.

It’s fun that CANI's United Way workplace campaign this year is incorporating the theme of superheroes, and it makes me think of Captain America and his cause. At CANI, we have a cause as well - to eliminate poverty.  We are soldiers just like Captain America, in the fight against poverty.

The United Way is an important ally in this fight against poverty. They support our programs in highly significant ways and they are the largest private funder that we have.

We are partners with the United Way in many different community initiatives, including the Case Coordination System, 211, and the Education Network, to name just a few. Most importantly, their goals are basically the same as our goals. The support they provide to the community - via funding to local agencies, volunteer mobilization, and advocacy - in the end all these things help the very same people that we are working to help as well.

I cannot overstate how much I believe in the work of United Way and what they are doing in our communities. As we begin our workplace campaign here, I hope that you might find it in your heart to donate to the campaign. Many workplaces, like CANI, make it really easy through payroll deduction. I know that I don’t notice the donation that I make each year - as a little bit comes out each paycheck - yet I know that what I give is providing resources that accomplish great results.

Please consider a gift to United Way today. You can even designate gifts to your favorite organization or your favorite initiatives. Any amount that you can provide is a great help to our community and the people who live here.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Sky's The Limit for Community Economic Development

This month we have a guest post from Sherry Early-Aden, CANI's Vice President of Operations

CCED offers a business planning course
called Foundations.
In 2010, CANI created a Community Economic Development (CED) department. This department was established to create positive economic opportunities and improve social conditions for disadvantaged individuals living in CANI’s service area.  CANI acts as an agent of change by providing Small Business Loans, financial education, building Low Income Housing Developments, and through empowering neighborhoods and communities to develop and create Quality of Life Plans.

In 2012, the CED department became CANI’s Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED). The Center is a supporting agency of CANI and operates to expand its mission.  Since its inception, The Center staff has worked hard to increase awareness of its programs and secure funding for the activities mentioned above.

In 2013, the Center had several signifigant accomplishments. We received Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) certification, and Small Business Administration (SBA) Intermediate Micro Lender status. Each of these will allow greater access to funding to further our efforts in Community Economic Development.

So, what will we do in 2014? The Center is excited about all the new opportunities awaiting us this year. Our goals include: pursuing a new housing development project, providing $250,000 in small business loans, launching a housing program in Waterloo, Indiana, and from there the sky is the limit.

Watch for CANI in a neighborhood near you!