Beth Gifford, President & CEO of Columbus Works, described the initiative perfectly, saying Columbus Works is a “nonprofit organization providing job readiness training and longterm wraparound support for any individual in central Ohio who desires to move out of poverty through full-time employment.” During COVID-19, assistance in employment matters is extremely relevant. Beth explained the pivoting challenges and adapting to the new atmosphere once stay-at-home orders began. For example, their coaching switching from physical locations to virtual sessions unknowingly led to other issues being exposed. A major one being their members did not have access to WiFi or access to a stable learning environment.
Each new pivot became a defining moment to the decisions faced. Beth expressed the scenarios of chronically unemployed members, parent members with children, and the tough decisions where Columbus Works tried to provide guidance. People who make progress to come out of poverty are the most fragile and are understandably hit the hardest. It may take years to regain the momentum lost to the turmoil of the pandemic.
According to plans by Columbus Works, it takes three to five years to earn your way out of poverty. After that, it takes an additional five to seven years to learn how to stay out of poverty. Beth emphasized their approach being reasonably predictable in how they walk alongside their members to achieve life improvements. We explore these different stages in the podcast, from the beginning with the very first steps of engaging with Columbus Works.
Work through the initiative transforms the lives of members. Beth told a particular story of a man who went from living in a shelter owning a three-bedroom ranch in the course of a year. Not only did his life change, but the lives of the people he is connected to. The man was able to move his mother into his home and is able to take care of child support. At the time of the episode, the man is saving for a car, and Beth pointed out one threshold Columbus Works aims to have their members reach:
“You want to be able to get to a place where you can choose.”— Beth Gifford
She expanded on this thought using the car scenario. The financial ability to choose how and what to pursue gives a different sense of freedom.
Another heavy area of impact within Columbus Works related to members learning through their trauma. For Beth, there came a realization that not being able to sustain employment could be connected to the fight or flight instinct of trauma. She delved into patterns she identified with Columbus Works members and their significance.
Beth wrapped the conversation through an explanation of what it takes to be part of Columbus Works. She explained the main characteristics for roles, such as a member or a partnering employer, that are necessary for a thriving Columbus Works journey.