First Lady Rosalynn Carter and about 300 community leaders, bureaucrats and business people from all over the country met in a hot, stuffy church social room here yesterday to talk about unemployment and what to do about it.
The conference was called "Rosalynn Carter's Communities Plan Seminar on Employment," and that title, along with the curlicued "RC" logo printed on the literature prepared for the occasion, seemed to reflect a new White House determination to thrust the First Lady into the spotlight.
Mrs. Carter acted as keynote speaker and moderator, and came back again and again to the theme she had set for the seminar - that of industry and government acting together in countless small-scale programs.
"One thing I have learned in experience in government," said Mrs. Carter, ". . . is that there will never be enough government money to solve our problems." But "I know that we can solve the problems of this country if we can get the private secotr to work with the government . . . The smallest efforts count when they're added up."
The seminar's underlying purpose, Mrs. Carter explained, was to acquaint participants with job-creation efforts "that work and can be replicated across the country."
Then a series of speakers told how they had manged, in most cases without government help, to set up programs to put the hard-core unemployed to work. Dorothy King of Denver showed slides of her nonprofit "You Wash It - We Iron It" business, staffed by largely unskilled, part-time workers, including elderly women on social security.
One woman had asked for just enough work to make the final payment on a new stove, King recalled and when the payment was made, "she was so grateful she said. Honey, this is bringing it down where the rubber hits the road."
Other speakers told of a small-town job bank designed to match job hunters with jobs, of training school to help women qualify for "nontraditional" fields like auto mechanics and carpentry and of an older-employe placement service called ABLE, which stands for "Ability Based on Long Experience."
But mixed in with the sucess stories were a number of unhappy accounts from those who had sought and failed to get federal funds for their programs, and from others who had found federal paperwork too complicated.
Business will cooperate with job-training programs only if government makes it "easy," said Rosalie Tryon, coordinator of one such program in Ford du Lac, Wis. "I can talk out of one side of my mouth with the government - play whoopie with all the forms, but then when I'm talking to business I've got to talk straight," said Tryon.
So many CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) jobs are filled by local governments themselves, complained Sister Grace Dorothy Lynn of Honolulu, who runs a counselling service for immigrants and refugees, that only a "handful" are left for private social service organizations.
Some participants came to yesterday's seminar hoping to find new money for this or that anti-unemployment proposal, and a few made new contacts inside the federal bureaycracy. But Mrs. Carter said, as she has before, that she did not want to become "a channel for federal funds . . . and I don't wnat everybody who doesn't get a grant to blame me."
During a lunch break, Mrs. Carter talked with seminar participants and visited a senior citizens group that regularly has lunch at the New York Avenue Presbyetrian Church. She drew rave reviews from the elderly lunchers. "She was just as pretty in person as she was in the newspapers," said Marjorie George.
Earl Old Person, a Blockfoot Indian, sang what he described as traditional Indian "honor song" as the seminar wound to a close, and gave the First Lady the honorary name "Eagle Shield Woman."