Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A successful program in Portland, Oregon that could work elsewhere

The Northwest Area Foundation is an organization that combats poverty in the northern plains of the US. At a recent meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota an innovative program was spotlighted that the organization hopes to bring to other locations.

The Economic Opportunity Initiative uses a combination of workforce programs and micro enterprise to give people skills that will lift themselves out of poverty.

The Minnesota Spokesman Recorder noted the comments of the programs designer Howard Cutler.

Its main goal is to increase adult participants’ incomes by a minimum of 25 percent after three years, and also to train youth for jobs that will allow them to pursue higher education or a career path. The seven micro-enterprise projects help participants to start or expand small businesses.

Portland’s previous attempts to eliminate poverty only produced minimal results, especially among long-term residents. “There are multiple reasons why an individual is poor,” said Cutler. “Our goal was to use a people-centered strategy, [and] the projects are built around the strengths of the individual.” The essence of the “Portland model,” then, appears to be making a special effort to match individuals who are living in poverty with training and jobs matched to their individual interests and talents.

He announced that this past year the Initiative graduated its first class. Eighty percent of the participants were earning below the federal poverty level when they first enrolled in 2004-05; 51 percent are people of color, and 74 percent were unemployed at the time of enrollment.

According to Cutler, 25-30 percent of the participants “are [young] African Americans,” adding that the enrollees’ incomes have nearly doubled after completing the program.

“Every individual is tracked for three years to see if there is improvement,” he explained. “Our goal is to decrease poverty.”

Cutler said that there are now 2,000 Portland residents enrolled in the Initiative, adding that his program will be needed “as long as poverty exists” in Portland. For the past 18 months, Cutler has been a consultant for “Duluth at Work.”

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