(April 2019) As previously discussed in this column, the East AlabamaWorks Regional Workforce Council operates under the umbrella of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama. As the fiscal sponsor for East AlabamaWorks, the Foundation hosts the operational funds for the workforce development organization, along with providing administrative support and office space for council employees.

So, when the Community Foundation began formulating an effort to combat the cycle of poverty in East Alabama, the workforce council was a natural partner – that was already in place – with available resources to take on the challenge.

After identifying generational poverty as a serious local issue through a Community Needs Assessment, and collaborating with numerous community service entities in Etowah County, a new program called E2 was born. The goal of the E2 program is to reduce the number of children, five-years old and younger, living below the poverty level by focusing on Education and Employment for parents. The Etowah County E2 program is a pilot program which the Foundation hopes to see grow into a region-wide program that encompasses all nine counties served by the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama.

The program works by braiding together a variety of funding resources and community services to provide participants with educational opportunities that lead to employment in career fields that have been designated as high-wage and high-demand by the State of Alabama. Utilizing the two-generation approach to reducing poverty levels, the E2 program will provide educational opportunities with a pathway to employment for parents with at least one child who is five-years old or less, while at the same time providing early childhood education for the children.

Once an applicant is chosen for the program, an E2 Life Coach will work with the participant to identify specific needs, and challenges, they face in trying to obtain a GED, post-secondary certificate, credential, or degree. Students will then be able to choose from a variety of skills training programs, short term certificate training programs, or Associates Degree programs through Gadsden State Community College – with all of their tuition, fees, and additional costs paid for by the E2 program.

Through the braiding of the various resources available in the county, the program and its partners will also be able to provide participants with assistance in breaking down additional barriers that may be standing in their way, things like transportation, childcare, and health & wellness issues.

Once a participant finishes the education pathway of their choice, and is ready to complete the E2 program, additional resources from East AlabamaWorks and the Gadsden Career Center will kick in to help place program completers into high-wage, high-demand jobs that will help them complete their journey out of the poverty cycle.

Funding for the E2 program’s educational components comes from the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, and from the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act, depending on the qualification guidelines of each. Additional community service partners include the Family Success Center, United Way of Etowah County, Success by 6, Head Start, YMCA of the Coosa Valley, Etowah County Rural Transportation/JARC, and Gadsden City Schools.

Program applicants must be at least 18-years old and have at least one child that is five-years old or younger. Applicants also must meet income qualifications and be considered low income.

Enrollment for the E2 program is currently underway. Applications must be completed online by visiting www.yourcommunityfirst.org and selecting the scholarships tab. Assistance in completing the application is available through any of the community service partners mentioned above, or by visiting the Family Success Center located at 821 East Broad Street in Gadsden. The deadline for submitting an application is May 31, 2019.