A one-year-old Alexandria school that teaches computer and other job skills to the homeless needs more money if it is going to stay afloat, according to officials from the nonprofit Alexandria group that founded the center.
The Family Learning-Life Skills Training Center opened in March 1998 to serve families in a two-year housing program in Arlandria. Run by Community Lodgings, a local nonprofit agency, the training center has so far helped about 80 people learn the skills they need to move from minimum wage, unskilled labor into the mainstream workplace. Many participants have found clerical jobs that pay more than $15 an hour, organizers said.
But this week, $50,000 in grants used by Community Lodgings to start the center are nearly gone. Without a new influx of funds, officials of the organization said, the successful training program is in jeopardy.
"We've been lean and mean since 1987, and we always hope for the best," said Community Lodgings Executive Director James Garrett. "But if we don't have money, we'll have to do program cutbacks."
Community Lodgings was founded in 1987 by the eight Episcopal churches of Alexandria and gathers support from local businesses, churches, foundations and individual donors. The learning center was funded, in part, by a $50,000 grant from the Beirne Carter Foundation. Some $30,000 was provided by the Washington Metropolitan Builders Association, and an additional $12,000 came from Chevy Chase Bank to help fund the transitional housing program.
Since the center opened, officials said, they've been able to transform unskilled workers into valuable employees by familiarizing them with computers, which are lent out for intensive home study, and basic word processing programs.
Overall, officials say, the center has exceeded their expectations. At one time, officials said they hoped to expand the learning program, which currently is available only to the residents of Community Lodgings' 24 transitional housing units on Notabene Drive. Residents of the agency's 36 affordable housing units on Elbert Avenue are not yet eligible.
Once in the program, the participants--most of whom are single mothers--are required to work and to pay subsidized rent, which does not exceed 30 percent of their salary. They also are eligible to receive support services from volunteers and from social workers.
After completing six months of study in the computer center, participants spend an additional six months learning skills such as how to answer the telephone and basic money management, and they take classes on how to write a resume and interview for jobs.
"Some of these people are trying to get back on their feet after living in shelters or on the streets," Garrett said. "Some had dependencies of different kinds. They needed life skills, to learn how to cope. . . . We've made them more marketable in the workplace."
In fact, Garrett said, people have been eager to participate in the program, and most have gone to better jobs and lives without outside assistance.
Since 1995, officials said, Community Lodgings has helped 60 people and their families move on to self-sufficiency. One of the program participants has purchased a home.
"We've definitely been successful," Garrett said. "We have a 75 percent success rate with people going on to improve their standard of living. Considering the group we're working with, that's a pretty high rate. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they're in a situation where the learning is intimate and familiar, and people feel a bond."
Garrett said the center is working to renew grants and find additional money from foundations.
"Right now, we've raised money in bits and pieces, and we continue to apply for grants and keep a positive attitude," he said. "We're pursuing every angle we can."