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Open Society Institute Baltimore gives $1.5M to fund job training for those with criminal records

The Open Society Institute-Baltimore has awarded $1.5 million to four local nonprofits to help low-income residents who face major barriers to employment. The gift will leverage an additional $1.5 million in state and federal funds, bringing $3 million to the state of Maryland.

The grants aim to strengthen communities by providing job training and placement for individuals with past criminal convictions. The $1.5 million will enable 141 individuals with criminal histories to be trained for jobs with career paths, such as nursing and geriatrics, advanced Microsoft Office certification, lead abatement and mold remediation, weatherization retrofitting, construction, culinary arts, construction and mechanical engineering. In addition, employers will be offered incentives--a wage subsidy for up to six months--to hire those who complete the training programs.

"People with prior convictions have an extremely difficult time re-entering the workforce. During a recession, the odds are stacked even higher against them," says Diana Morris, director of OSI-Baltimore. "These grants will help people who are working hard to get their lives on track. And local employers will benefit from a trained and highly motivated workforce."

The funding is part of a $6 million grant awarded to OSI-Baltimore by the Open Society Institute's Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation, an initiative created by George Soros in response to the recession. The fund helps leverage state and federal monies nationwide to strengthen the social safety net and expand economic opportunities for low-income people. The OSI-Baltimore grants require a one-to-one match, with most of the matching funds coming from public dollars.

"So many of these individuals want to make a fresh start and do it well and there's no better way than providing them with training for a new career and giving them the confidence to build a new life," says Debra Rubino, director of strategic communications at OSI-Baltimore.

Last fall, OSI-Baltimore awarded the first round of grants for nine Baltimore organizations and one city agency--with a special emphasis on job training, drug addiction treatment, dental care for the homeless and other urgent needs.

Founded by George Soros in 1998, OSI-Baltimore has invested more than $60 million, the largest single investment an individual has made in Baltimore to help those suffering from poverty and discrimination. This $6 million Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation grant is separate from a challenge Mr. Soros issued in 2006 when he said he would give $10 million more to OSI-Baltimore if local donors contributed an additional $20 million. To date, OSI-Baltimore has raised more than $14 million toward that goal, and the fundraising continues. All of the $20 million raised from the Baltimore community will go directly to OSI-Baltimore's core program areas.

The OSI-Baltimore grants will be awarded to:

Center for Urban Families -- $435,000 over two years to provide job training and paid internships in a variety of trades to people with past convictions and drug dependence. The participants will receive job readiness and skills training in such areas as nursing and geriatrics, advanced Microsoft Office certification, lead abatement and mold remediation, culinary arts, and construction and mechanical engineering. The Center will offer case management services and will also pay wage subsidies to employers for up to six months.

Civic Works, Inc. -- $532,000 to provide job training and paid internships to people with prior criminal records. Participants will be trained as environmental field technicians and abatement workers, as well as energy retrofit installers. All participants who successfully complete the program will be placed in entry-level green jobs. Civic Works will offer wage subsidies for up to six months.

Group Ministries, Inc. -- $215,000 to provide job training and paid internships in the building trades to people with past criminal convictions. Group Ministries will train participants to achieve journeyman status as plumbers, electricians or carpenters. The program will include a combination of classroom and on-the-job instruction, qualifying participants to be state-recognized apprentices. Group Ministries will offer employers a wage subsidy for up to six months.

Job Opportunities Task Force, Inc. -- $317,500 to provide job training and paid internships in the building trades to individuals with prior criminal records. Participants will learn job readiness, math and skills development in electrical, plumbing and carpentry. The Job Opportunities Task Force will subsidize up to six months' wages for employers who agree to hire graduates of the program.

Source: Debra Rubino, OSI-Baltimore
Writer: Walaika Haskins
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