CREW: Helping Communities Thrive

Feb 12, 2024

Photo of young black womanJoelle* met Ahmed Abukar, Director of Workforce Development, at an outreach event with Columbus City Schools. She told Ahmed about her work history moving from one low-paying job to another. Ahmed suggested that he and his team might be able to help. Joelle smiled, “I doubt that,” she said. “It’s just the way things are.”

Joelle’s experience was similar to that of many workforce clients who are living with poverty: complex, interwoven challenges that form a barrier to stable employment and economic mobility.

For example, Joelle was earning $9/hour working part time at a retail outlet. Her store manager told Joelle she’d be fired if she left, but Joelle had no choice. Without alternative child care, Joelle chose her son and lost her job.

Within a week, Joelle was employed in another low-wage job. With no savings, rent to pay, and a car that frequently needed repairs, Joelle was barely able to put food on the table and was grateful the restaurant job included at least one meal for her when she was working.

After hearing her out, Ahmed showed Joelle the basic intake form on our Wayfynder app which is available on the App Store, Google Play, and at The next day, a career coach called Joelle, explained the program, and emphasized that Joelle’s unpredictable schedule wasn’t a problem. She agreed to come in for an assessment.

We were able to help Joelle secure emergency funding to assist with utility bills and connected her with low-cost internet which would enable her to search for jobs at home instead of having to come to our office or the library. By visiting food pantries, she was able to save money on groceries and could then make ends meet. Because it had been necessary for her survival, she was already good at budgeting which her career coach pointed out was a strength.Three adults in classroom setting

Our career coaches helped Joelle develop a customized resume and practice interview skills. Joelle was motivated and our team helped keep her energized. They encouraged her to see a future for herself instead of just accepting her lot in life.

When the CREW team was developing a customer service training curriculum for Spectrum, they saw it as an opportunity for clients like Joelle who bring under-utilized skills and strengths to their work.

Most clients who work with our CREW team, including Joelle, would not meet the basic requirements required of the jobs Spectrum has available. However, after learning a wealth ofsoft skills, understanding their transferable skills, overcoming fears, and building confidence, our clients not only meet the basic requirements but also exceed the expectations of potential employers.

The first customer service training took place in October. Of 12 participants, Spectrum hired seven. The second cohort trained in December and the 15 participants are ready for their interviews which will come up soon.

Our team had been working with Spectrum for over a year prior to developing the Customer Service Training. They see the quality of our workforce clients and have onboarded 67 of our job seekers to date. The positions pay $22-$25/hour.

Joelle is looking forward to the opportunity to interview with Spectrum. The wages, health care benefits, and regular schedule would make a remarkable difference in her life. She knows that there is a positive future for her and she won’t have to just scrape by the rest of her life. She is considering continuing her education. She’d like to be able to help others in her family and community experience a brighter future.

*Client names have been changed to respect confidentiality.e