A helping hand in return

Published 10:52 am Wednesday, November 22, 2017

WINDSOR – When Hurricane Matthew ripped through North Carolina in October of 2016, not only did it leave death, but it also damaged hundreds of roads and bridges, destroyed home sites and farmlands, and left many public areas unsafe. Thousands of people found themselves homeless and in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

Later last fall, the U.S. Department of Labor announced grants totaling up to $22 million in National Dislocated Worker Grant funding to North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida, with more than $7 million released initially. These funds served to create disaster relief employment to help with clean-up and recovery efforts in the wake of the storm.

These grants generally provided resources to local workforce development boards to support economic recovery and reemployment following major layoff events or natural or other disasters.

Approximately 1,300 workers were employed nationwide courtesy of these grants to assist with clean-up and repair of destroyed public structures, facilities and lands in the affected communities.

Here in the Tar Heel state, the North Carolina Department of Commerce earmarked up to $14.8 million, with nearly $5 million released initially, to create employment for about 944 people in 41 counties in the eastern half of the state.

Eighteen additional people were employed by Bertie County and the Town of Windsor after the Choanoke Area Development Association (CADA) was awarded the Disaster Relief Emergency Program (DREP) to assist in the cleanup of hurricane debris and in other forms of aid.

Now, while restoration does remain, much of the funding that employed those additional workers for that clean-up has dried up, but CADA is offering assistance to these employees with possible permanent positions.

A presentation on the program’s availability was made to the Bertie County Commissioners here at their Nov. 6 meeting.

“A number of county departments have worked very closely with CADA staff to take advantage of this grant money to hire people who have worked all over Bertie County through our water department, Council on Aging, maintenance department, and inspections,” said Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer. “We thank them for helping us. They (workers) have been a great help in getting the county back on its feet.”

But the program will be ending on Dec. 8, and CADA’s trying to get these workers employed at permanent jobs.

Ja’Queta Pugh-Stevenson, a career advisor with CADA’s NCWorks in Bertie County, updated the Commissioners on what’s offered.

“We actually have funding dollars to help these individuals who have been hired temporarily through DREP that the county may be considering hiring,” Pugh-Stevenson said.

“We can help fill the skills gap between work experience and training.  Once they’ve done the work experience, they can roll that over into on-the-job training.”

Pugh-Stevenson said there is some financial reimbursement to employers once the workers are hired full-time. She asked if anyone knew of employers seeking assistance with training, there are monies available.

“We’re coming to network with you to see if we can get people assisted with jobs, training, and assistance,” she added. “We’re a one-stop center for youth as well as adults and if you send people to us, you will be amazed at the services we have. We have over $100,000 to spend on job training, and we also treat employers as customers too.”

Pugh-Stevenson said NCWorks for Bertie County is located at 128 W. Granville Street in Windsor.

Norman Cherry, with Martin Community College’s Bertie campus, said part of the NCWorks aid can also assist with education.

“A shout-out to them for their efforts and work within the county,” Cherry stated.

Commission vice-chairman Ernestine Bazemore inquired about an age limit, and Pugh-Stevenson said there is none.

“We have programs for youth, we have programs for adults, there is no excuse,” she acknowledged. “We may not reach everybody, but we can help as many as we can.”

Sauer said the county would like to present a proposal to the Commissioners in the future that would expand this program.

“There’ve been a couple of opportunities where Commissioners have actually seen some of these folks’ work like the Courtyard project (Charters of Freedom), the Cooperative Extension office, and you may have noticed we’re doing a lot better in putting up street signs (in the Town of Windsor), and this is by one of the persons who came through the CADA project,” Sauer said.

“For the first two months, if we’re elevating their skills, they (CADA) will cover the costs. So we want to bring you a list of persons who might benefit and build on this experience,” he noted. “It’s one of the best ways to test out workers before you actually go through an interview process. If you (CADA) can bring us a proposal, we can take this to the next level.”

Commissioner Stewart White lauded an earlier CADA program in which he was a participant.

“When I was in high school, I printed off the programs at the school print shop, and they paid me for this,” White stated. “This is just part of a wonderful program that helps kids get started.”

Commissioner Ron Wesson said thanks to CADA and the MidEast Commission, Bertie County possibly received the largest amount of any of the surrounding counties.

“Because we had our representatives, and knew that the money was there, we jumped right on it,” he asserted.

Lu Stout, Business Engagement Coordinator for Region-Q Workforce Development Board, did want to make clear that there are two programs: the work experience program, similar to the one through CADA’s DREP program; and the on-the-job training program, for which 100 percent of the cost is covered provided the participant has no previous work experience.

“If they have previous work experience, then we move them and consider them for the on-the-job training program, for which we reimburse up to 50 percent if an employer has 250 employees or more,” Stout clarified.

“If you have under that number of employees we reimburse up to 75 percent. So for the individuals the county might employ we would look at their skill set from the DREP program versus the job you would want to put them in, and we would then decide which way to go; so it’s not automatically 100 percent.”

“The people who worked on the Courtyard worked really hard, and they did it for really not a lot of money,” said Commissioner Tammy Lee. “We kept our eye on them for future reference.”