Nashville may be best known for its country music stars like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, but it’s also a town with strong community bonds. I spent some time in the Music City this week meeting with local organizations that are utilizing community partnerships to get Nashvillians back to work. Such partnerships have played an important role in helping to bring the metro area’s current unemployment rate down to 6.7 percent from a high of 10.2 percent in June 2009.
My office, the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP), hosted a Job Clubs Roundtable with the Nashville Career Advancement Center (NCAC) – the local federally funded Workforce Investment Board – where we brought together a group of nonprofits, congregations, and government agencies to discuss the value of partnerships. Paul Haynes, Executive Director of NCAC, described a program his organization operates called Career Connections that works with community groups, including public libraries and churches, to help job seekers network and meet with employers through industry focused forums. NCAC also holds “train-the-trainer” sessions to develop the capacity of community groups to offer their own networking events.
One of NCAC’s community partners is Brentwood United Methodist Church, which runs a Career Transitions Support Group on Monday nights for congregation and community members. Hal Hassall, a volunteer leader for the Brentwood job club, offered some of the keys to his group’s success:
- First and foremost, according to Hal, the Brentwood group relies on a stable of 24 dedicated volunteers who prepare and run the weekly meetings that serve 5,000 people during the course of a year.
- Second, the group brings in expert speakers and panelists who share valuable information about local employers, labor market information, and job search tips.
- Finally, the spiritual and counseling resources within the church provide a valuable source of support and motivation for the group’s members.
Other roundtable participants spoke about programs in their organizations that provide networking assistance and emotional support for job seekers. Staff from Goodwill Industries of Middle TN, who hosted the roundtable at their beautiful Career Solutions Center facility in North Nashville, discussed their weekly Job Jam meetings where clients discuss and share information about their job search. Rachel LeNeave from The Next Door, a residential transition center for women returning to the community from incarceration, discussed her program’s Tuesday workforce classes. The roundtable ended with a conversation around new types of job club partnerships, including a discussion of local AmeriCorps and VISTA programs led by Robin Corindo, a State Program Specialist with the Corporation for National and Community Service.
As the meeting closed, a number of groups around the table were excited to take information and connections from the meeting back to their congregations and organizations, with the hopes of establishing new partnerships that can lead to even more members of their communities singing that catchy line made famous by Dolly herself: “Workin’ 9 to 5.”
Ben Seigel is Deputy Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.