Frost Illustrated Staff Report
FORT WAYNE—Last week, a group of area business, spiritual and public sector leaders extended a strong hand of support to a segment of the community in critical need of assistance in securing a better future.
On Oct. 10, those leaders gathered at Parkview Hospital Randallia in front of dozens of supporters and other concerned citizens to announce a new initiative aimed at helping at-risk male adults secure and maintain long-term employment. The initiative—dubbed “Securing Confidence On the Road to Employment” or S.C.O.R.E.—will focus on helping young men build key skills in performance, behavior, attendance, faith, fatherhood and family, organizers said.
“There are a number of factors that can lead to getting young individuals off the street and on the road to success,” said John Dortch, president and CEO of the Preston Joan Group Inc., one of the prime motivators behind the initiative. “Employment is one of the main factors and we believe that helping these men get the opportunity they need to succeed, we can help make a positive difference in our community.
Dortch laid out an innovative and progressive approach to working on the problem.
“We also said we would approach 50 companies to see if they would hire two each 18- to-30-year-olds. Prior to hiring them,” explained Dortch, “what we decided to do is that we would prescreen these young men. After prescreening them, then they would come before the team and meet with us individually. After meeting with us individually, then we can recommend them to the various companies that have agreed to participate.”
That, however, doesn’t end S.C.O.R.E.’s involvement. The initiative includes a faith-based team comprised of the Rev. Luther Whitfield, Bishop Malcolm Howell and the Rev. Kenneth Christmon and others focusing on faith, family and fatherhood; a team of mothers focusing on parenting; and another team with Fort Wayne Deputy Police Chief Gary Hamilton, focusing on gangs, drugs and other related issues. Every other month, for up to one year, each of those teams will meet with program participants to help guide them to successful outcomes in the program.
Local employers, including Parkview Health, Sweetwater Sound, Alexin LLC and others, have agreed to employ at least two individuals identified by S.C.O.R.E. leaders. Committee members first will screen participants using strict criteria. Committee members are made up of different community members from local businesses, law enforcement agencies and religious institutions. After meeting the required qualifications and criteria, S.C.O.R.E. leaders will work with participating employers in an effort to best identify the right opportunity or employment.
Criteria for participants include:
• Must be 18 to 30 years of age.
• Must pass a drug test.
• Must be willing to attend post training/employment sessions six times during. the first year of employment.
• Must be willing to comply with companies’ policies, practices and procedures.
• Must have an understanding that attendance, performance or behavior issues could result in corrective action including potential dismissal from the program.
After individuals are hired, they will be required to attend up to six meetings the first year. Meetings will be held in a group session format. Discussions will include:
• How to keep a job.
• Avoiding performance, behavior or attendance issues.
Program officials said that securing employment and having the support mechanisms in place to help retain jobs are crucial in a pathway to a better future for young people.
“Obtaining gainful employment can provide a number of positive opportunities for young individuals,” said Ben Miles, vice president of operations for Parkview Hospital Randallia. “It’s that ‘foot-in-the-door’ opportunity that can turn someone’s life around and this initiative will help do just that.”
Tom Horter, president and CEO of Alexin LLC of Bluffton, Ind., shared a similar sentiment regarding the importance of such programs to the community.
“Alexin is privileged to be part of S.C.O.R.E. and we always enjoy serving our community, which has served us well,” said Horter. “This is the right thing to do for the participants and we look forward to helping them on this new challenge, which will lead to financial independence and security.”
“When John approached me a few months ago about the concept, that obviously he had been working on a long time,… it didn’t take me but two seconds to say yes,” said Church Surack, president and CEO of Sweetwater Sound, an international leader in the music retail industry based in Fort Wayne.
Surack noted that he constantly had help and support along the way from others on the way to building one of the world’s most renowned business in its field and becoming one of the area’s largest employers.
“The last several years, one of my personal missions and goals is to create more jobs in Fort Wayne,” said Surack. “So, what John and the staff and the team have put together aligns so perfectly with me. Whether that’s being able to provide jobs at Sweetwater, Sweet Aviation, or Sweet Cars or Lounge Optical or many of the businesses that I have, I’m just excited to give these young guys a chance.
He also noted that even he has seen first hand the difficulties some young men have finding employment.
“And, I’ll also say this, as the father of two stepsons, 19 and 21, most of us in this room are a little older and you may not realize how hard it is to find a job these days…. If we don’t invest in young people, we won’t have a good future in our community.”
Surack congratulated the organizers and participants in the initiative, adding, “I’m happy to support and do everything I can to make it successful.”
For more information, or if you are a young man who might be eligible for S.C.O.R.E., visit www.scoreforlife.org.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 16 print edition.