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Shasta County’s Prosperity Initiative

08/25/2017 11:00AM ● By Claudia Mosby

Lead the Way

September 2017
By Claudia Mosby
Photo by Ron Gregory

A new three-year community Prosperity Initiative in Shasta County suggests we are stronger together than we are apart.

Launched in 2016 by the United Way of Northern California and the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency, the Prosperity Initiative seeks to address the link between low income/low educational level and negative health outcomes.

“We were seeing disproportionate amounts of drug abuse, incarceration, sexual assault, and a higher incidence of child abuse and neglect,” says Larry Olmstead, executive director of United Way of Northern California.

“Many of these situations are caused or exacerbated by families in our community struggling to make ends meet,” Olmstead adds. “Income and poverty influence many of these factors, and we wanted a community-wide program to address the components that stimulate these problems.”

According to the Department of Health Care Services, Medi-Cal enrollment in Shasta County has grown in the past three years to one out of every four residents. Children ages 5 and under represent 65 percent of that number.

The initiative focuses on three core areas: Increasing financial stability, improving workforce readiness and youth development.

Increasing Financial Stability

“With the help of more than 30 community leaders, we identified two primary strategies for increasing financial stability,” says Olmstead.

The first is “NorCal Bank On,” in which the banking community works with the larger community to assist those in need of financial literacy and savings accounts.

“We want to give people the tools to manage their family finances,” says Olmstead, “and steer them away from predatory payday lenders by giving them the ability to save money. Research suggests a quarter of our community is either without banking services or underbanked.”

Currently, the Redding Bank of Commerce, Tri Counties and US Bank are working with local nonprofit organizations on educational workshops that will allow participants to open bank accounts under somewhat easier terms to help them save money, says Olmstead.  

The second strategy, a “Sparkpoint” resource center, features a one-stop location where individuals can receive financial coaching along with other services like career counseling, professional development and training.

Sparkpoint centers in the Bay Area have shown an 80 percent client success rate, says Olmstead, who is optimistic that with funding and a community match, the project will launch in 2018. 

Improving WorkForce Readiness

The North State Jobs Forum and basic skills training support the second Prosperity Project focus area.

The first Forum, a collaboration among the NorCal United Way, Shasta County and the SMART Center, occurred in March at Win River Casino. More than 100 attendees participated in interview coaching and critiques, wardrobe consultation and selection, and even haircuts. The next Forum is scheduled for this fall.

Training includes both “hard skills” (such as computation and typing) and “soft skills” (such as timeliness and communication). Online courses are supplemented by workshop activities, and enrollees will earn a certificate of completion they can then share with prospective employers, Olmstead says. 

Youth Development

Since Shasta County youth are particularly vulnerable, supporting their development and success represents a foundational plank of the Initiative. 

In partnership with Catalyst Mentoring, Prosperity aims to recruit 1,000 adults to mentor community youth (to date, more than 100 mentors have signed on). “We have a lot of youth who would benefit from a stronger sense of direction and life/career planning,” says Olmstead.

Catalyst’s role is to background check and train mentors who are then placed with nonprofit agencies serving youth, including the YMCA, Eagle’s Soar Youth Activity Center and several smaller organizations. 

Olmstead emphasizes Catalyst, which is affiliated with the Stirring Church, serves only as a coordinator for the project. 

“There is separation between Catalyst on this project and the role of the church. There’s a strong commitment to remain non-denominational.”

Additionally, the Initiative increases the number and amount of grants for after-school youth programs; money is deposited into a designated Teen Fund. 

The final element has been the design and development of an interactive website, a central hub for youth and youth engagement. “We created the website and are beta testing it now,” says Olmstead, “but we want to make it hipper and more accessible to youth; we realized it looks like it was designed by older people.” The website rollout is expected by autumn. 

Of the Initiative’s seven programs, Olmstead says six are currently underway and (as of June) the Initiative is a little more than halfway to the year one fundraising goal of $280,000.

“We would like to see each of these programs settle into the life blood of our community and become self-sustaining,” says Olmstead. “Ultimately, it’s about answering the question: ‘Are we committed to expanding quality of life to all our residents with sustainable lives?’”  

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