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Initiative funded by $1M grant from JPMorgan Chase will focus on removing barriers to job training

COURTESY PHOTO: CESAR ABNER MARINEZ AGUILAR FOR UNSPLASH - Mt. Hood Community College will assist families with childcare as part of an effort to help struggling families, funded by a $1 million grant from  JPMorgan Chase.Mt. Hood Community College will participate in an effort, funded by a $1 million grant from JPMorgan Chase, to boost the economic stability of struggling families.

The grant will support families — especially single moms, people of color and low-income households with young children — so they can get job training and break out of the cycle of poverty.

Lisa Skari, president of Mt. Hood Community College, said the program is important because it recognizes and expands the definition of the barriers that people need to overcome and "tackle the issues that are keeping people down."

Portland Shared Prosperity, a partnership between MHCC, the employment nonprofit Worksystems, the Oregon Department of Human Services and the Multnomah County Joint office of Homeless Services, will receive the $1 million grant.

Folks in Multnomah and Washington counties are eligible to participate.

There isn't a strict timeline, but the Prosperity Initiative hopes to begin recruiting families in July.

"It's really amazing to see a program looking to provide long-term solutions that can change the outlook for an entire family," said Christine Waters, director of MHCC's Child Care Resource and Referral.

Lack of affordable childcare and housing insecurity can prevent people from getting training to advance their family's prospects. The program will help eliminate these worries so participants can get the training they need for family-wage jobs.

The COVID-19 pandemic recession has worsened the situations of many of these families as job losses have hit hard on low-income people working in restaurants and food service, hotels and travel, retail and other areas.

MHCC's childcare resource group will provide the childcare expertise in the partnership. They will hire a "coach" to guide families in the program into appropriate childcare situations for their children. Part of the funds will also be used to subsidize childcare for families.

"Lack of access to child care is keeping people from getting access to training and breaking the cycle" of poverty, Skari said.

Families were already struggling to find affordable, quality childcare before the pandemic. But the COVID-19 outbreak shut down many child care operations and safety measures limited the number of slots in others.

Multnomah County homeless services will provide program participants with rent assistance and help them navigate housing problems, so participants don't have to worry about housing as they get more education and training.

Workforce will provide services including culturally-responsive career coaching, Waters said.

The career training can take place at different colleges or apprenticeship programs.

But MHCC does have multiple career-focused courses of study designed to get people into family-wage jobs quickly.

"We have a really strong partnership with Workforce already," Skari said.

Skari pointed out that the college's "career pathways" offerings can get students started in a family-wage career in a short time, sometimes less than a year. Some of the programs are also "stackable" so students can get to work and then come back for additional training, certificates and degrees, she said.

MHCC has two health care certificates — in basic health care and medical assistant — that are popular and take less than a year. There are also career programs in auto technology, business, cyber security and other disciplines.

"Community colleges are about access, responsiveness to the community and equity," Skari said.

The grant to Portland Shared Prosperity Initiative comes after a pilot program.

JPMorgan Chase is awarding $500 million over five years to cities around the country to promote greater economic opportunity in a program called AdvancingCities. This $1 million award is part of that program and the second award in the Portland area.

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