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SNAP training program fosters self-sufficiency, jobs – and runs out soon

South Boston News
SNAP E&T career coach Delilah White with Leteisha Drane and Laquanya Jordan. / May 14, 2018
The window is closing for recipients of federal nutrition assistance to take advantage of a jobs training program that two local women credit with lifting them to lives of self-sufficiency and steady work.

“I wasn’t doing anything with my life and this program turned things around for me,” said 41-year-old Laquanya Jordan about the Elevate SNAP Education and Training (E&T) program, which is set to halt enrollments on June 29.

The SNAP E&T program teaches employment and life skills to low-income beneficiaries of SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Halifax County’s program has been funded through a three-year USDA grant under the Farm Bill, but the money is due to run out in the current budget year.

“Unfortunately this is a limited-program and enrollment ends on June 29,” said Delilah White, a SNAP E&T recruitment specialist. “Our original goal was to serve 213 SNAP recipients in Halifax and South Boston. So far, the program has served 171 and we are now recruiting our final 42 participants.

“Although our goal is 213, we are happy to exceed that if the demand is there,” said White. “We have seen so much success with our program completers. They are doing big things, but we are not done yet.”

One of the program’s graduates is Lateisha Drane, a 36-year-old graduate of Halifax County High School. Before finding SNAP E&T, Drane had enrolled at Danville Community College for a seven-month program to prepare her for state certification exam for licensure in the health care profession. Drane finished the program but failed to pass the state board. She gave up.

Drane and Jordan are just two of the SNAP E&T enrollees who believed they had hit a dead end in life, with no clear path towards self-sufficiency — until this program came along.

Jordan and Drane both received a letter from Alice Banks, program coordinator at Halifax County Social Services, explaining what SNAP E&T does and encouraging them to at least apply. Both took the test required for acceptance — and they passed.

Drane’s goal when she entered the program in August was to further her education and receive certification as a Personal Care Assistant (the new name for Certified Nurse’s Aide, or CNA). She had a few babysitting and private care jobs, but not steady work.

Upon completing the program in October, she landed steady work with Team Nurse, but her certificate also allows her to work in the hospital.

Drane’s training regimen included a GED review, and teaching of skills such as time management, etiquette, and workplace behavior. She also received a certificate to show her proficiency in Microsoft productivity software.

Backed by cheerleaders and coaches like Alice Banks, Delilah White and others, Drane is looking ahead to training as an LPN (licensed practical nurse). Drane expresses excitement about the possibilities and says she is “motivated and determined to make it happen.”

When asked what she would tell other SNAP recipients who are wary of the program, Drane replied, “Sign up and try it out. Stop making excuses. It helped in my life — I didn’t think it would, but it did.”

When Jordan first signed up for the program, she said she didn’t know what she wanted to do. She chose to train as a Personal Care Assistant because “I liked the idea of caring for people.”

Jordan entered the program in June 2016 and received her PCA certificate in November 2016. Before she even finished the program, however, she received calls from multiple employers, and has been steadily employed for a year and a half.

“When you get up in the morning and know you have a job to go to is the best thing in the world,” said Jordan. Plus, “knowing how much they (her patients) are grateful touches my heart.”

Jordan is giving serious consideration to the nursing program at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, but needs to figure out how to juggle a full-time job and school. However, she knows she will do it: “I think I can do anything now if I put my mind to it,” says Jordan.

When asked what she would tell other SNAP recipients who have not taken advantage of this program, she said, “I’d tell them to cut the TV off and go over to Social Services now. If I did it, you can do it — all you have to do is try.”

Enrollees will find a champion in White, who brings long and diverse experience to the task of helping people build better lives. In addition to a masters in communications with a specialty in education leadership, and a stint in program development at the U.S. State Department, she also spent time in Jamaica, helping the ministry of education to expand its literacy and workforce training.

“My life has been all about working with under-represented, underserved, under-resourced, and impoverished populations,” said White.

Authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, the SNAP E&T program was intended to test a range of strategies for helping SNAP participants find employment, grow their earnings, and reduce reliance on public assistance.

The three-year USDA pilot program provides wrap-around services that include free workforce training programs through Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC), child care and transportation if needed, work uniforms, interview clothing, eye exams and eyeglasses, and other tools for finding jobs.

In 2016, the Virginia Department of Social Services received a $22.3 million competitive grant from the USDA to develop and test innovative workforce training strategies targeted to SNAP recipients.

In April 2016, SVCC, along with the Department of Social Services in Brunswick, Charlotte, Greensville/Emporia, Halifax, Nottoway, and Prince Edward counties, launched Elevate SNAP E&T to help residents currently enrolled in SNAP to secure better jobs in high-demand fields.

Adult career coaches work with participants to create an individualized program to meet their needs, providing guidance and support through the entire program and beyond.

Some of the employment training options include personal care assistant, phlebotomist, electronic health records specialist, computer support technician and commercial truck driver.

In addition to education and training, the program proves soft-skills such as employment readiness, self-confidence, teamwork, communications, resume writing, and interview skills.

Training sessions take place Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m.–2:30 p.m. at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston.

“The unique aspect of this program is the job placement assistance. Once a participant is close to earning their certification, we provide free resume and interview preparation. Then we place them in a local job earning good pay,” said White.”

Residents of Halifax and South Boston who already receive SNAP benefits are eligible for the program. Program participants cannot lose their benefits based on their participation.

Other eligibility requirements include not receiving disability or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits; able to attend sessions every day; and work no more than 30 hours per week while in the program.

“The program has been a blessing for many clients, giving them an opportunity to learn marketable skills, gain self-confidence, make new friends, and become self-sufficient for themselves and for their families, said Banks. “ All of the clients who come to the info sessions are to be applauded because it takes real courage to change. They want a chance at a better life and that is what we are trying to help them with.”

The long-term future of the program is wrapped up in a debate now taking place in Washington on reauthorization of the 2018 Farm Bill. Under Republican House legislation, funding for SNAP E&T would rise significantly, but the program would go from being voluntary to mandatory. The change is consistent with Republican demands to impose work requirements on those receiving food assistance.

The bill’s increased funding for SNAP E&T has drawn praise from advocates of nutrition assistance, but they warn that the positive impacts will be undermined if people are driven away from the program by stiff work requirements.

For now, enrollment in the program remains open through June 29.

SNAP recipients interested in finding out more should immediately contact Delilah White at 434-222-0184 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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