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Ninety days after being hired, four graduates of the Bridges to Hope program who were employed by Oaklawn Park have a 100-percent success rate, Oaklawn's general manager, Eric Jackson, said Friday.

"Of all the things that I have seen trying to make a dent in poverty and assistance, I don't think I've ever seen any quite as impressive as this," Jackson said.

"We're watching people change their lives, and change their futures, right in front of our eyes. And as an employer, I will tell you it is pretty darn neat."

The 16-week Getting Ahead (Bridges to Hope) program through Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic offers disadvantaged individuals the opportunity to learn life skills that can be used to find better jobs that help transition them out of poverty.

The program is designed to move people from public assistance into the workplace.

Out of the first class, Oaklawn hired four graduates as full-time employees, including benefits.

Oaklawn has what it calls the 30-60-90 day program, where it evaluates employees after 30 and 60 days, and celebrates with employees who reach 90 days of employment.

"We had a 100-percent success rate," Jackson said. The managers of the departments where the graduates work at Oaklawn are saying "give us more people like this. They have been terrific."

"We are absolutely as pleased as we could be," Jackson said.

"Most are single women who have made some bad choices in their life, but they don't want to raise their children on public assistance and things like that," Jackson said.

CCMC approached Oaklawn and asked if it would consider employing some of the program's graduates. Each of the graduates has a mentor in the community "who stays close to them to help them make the transition to their workplace. We told them we would be delighted," Jackson said.

There was one roadblock; Oaklawn had to work with the state of Arkansas to change the licensing requirements for its employees.

"You pretty much have to be a saint to get a job out here. If you've had anything in your past -- misdemeanors, or anything else -- you pretty much can't get a job. Most of these people have some problems in their past, or they wouldn't be in the situation they're in."

Larry Walther, director of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration in Little Rock, in conjunction with Gov. Asa Hutchinson, worked with Oaklawn to change the licensing requirements so that the program's graduates would be eligible to work there.

"If they had not agreed to change their licensing requirements, we could not have done this. But that comes directly from Gov. Hutchinson and his absolute desire to help people enter and stay in the workplace," Jackson said.

The first graduating class was about 90 days ago. Oaklawn hosted a luncheon for the graduates, including some who already had job offers elsewhere, to congratulate and celebrate what they had accomplished.

Oaklawn also set up a mock job fair so that each of the graduates would have the experience of going through the interview process, and coached them through it, so that if they didn't want to work at Oaklawn and wanted to apply someplace else, they would know how to improve their presentation to a prospective employer.

Another graduating class is coming up, and Jackson said Oaklawn intends to follow through with those graduates, as well, with the luncheon and the mock interviews and coaching.

The graduates are assigned mentors to follow them through the process and beyond, and Jackson said all of the mentors of their four employees are "staying close to them."

Local on 11/20/2016

Print Headline: Bridges to Hope attains success

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