Re­born (with help) in Bal­ti­more

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Steven Gon­dol Steven Gon­dol is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Live Bal­ti­more. His email is sgon­dol@live­bal­ti­more.com.

If you have the op­por­tu­nity to walk into Live Bal­ti­more’s of­fices on North Charles Street, you’ll likely be greeted by Chadras Co­ples. She’s the pro­gram sup­port spe­cial­ist here — a broad-sound­ing ti­tle for a crit­i­cal po­si­tion. She’s the glue that keeps our var­i­ous pro­grams run­ning seam­lessly, our staff or­ga­nized and ef­fi­cient, and our cus­tomer outreach top­notch.

She does her job so well, you might as­sume the 29-year-old was al­ways so self-suf­fi­cient and struc­tured — but you’d be wrong.

Af­ter she was hired, Ms. Co­ples of­fered her back story: It in­cluded a his­tory of de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and sub­stance abuse that held back the West Bal­ti­more na­tive for years. She tried on her own to get out from the quick­sand but found her­self stuck, time and time again. Through the ef­forts of the mayor’s of­fice and three lo­cal non­prof­its, how­ever, Ms. Co­ples says she feels like she has been “re­born.” She’s em­ployed, liv­ing in­de­pen­dently and dream­ing again about life’s pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Many peo­ple in Ms. Co­ples’ sit­u­a­tion need as­sis­tance get­ting past the ob­sta­cles in their lives: lit­tle or no work his­tory, crim­i­nal records, poor ed­u­ca­tions, des­o­late com­mu­ni­ties, sub­stance abuse and so on. Her story il­lus­trates the syn­ergy that has to take place be­tween Mary­land’s gov­ern­ment agen­cies and non­prof­its if we truly are to reach res­i­dents who have it within them to suc­ceed with the right help, but are too of­ten dis­re­garded. Their suc­cess is our city’s suc­cess — and we need to take that se­ri­ously.

The path that led Ms. Co­ples to Live Bal­ti­more be­gan nearly three years ago when she turned to Mar­ian House — a tran­si­tional hous­ing and sup­port pro­gram for women in need — for as­sis­tance in ad­dress­ing her ad­dic­tion to mar­i­juana and al­co­hol, and learn­ing to live on her own. With help from Mar­ian House, Ms. Co­ples was able to move out of her mother’s house.

She also par­tic­i­pated in an in­ten­sive pro­gram of­fered by the lo­cal non­profit Hu­manim to train peo­ple to be cer­ti­fied med­i­cal ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tants. The pro­gram was de­vel­oped us­ing funds from the One Bal­ti­more For Jobs (1B4J) ini­tia­tive ad­min­is­tered by the Mayor’s Of­fice of Em­ploy­ment Devel­op­ment and gave Ms. Co­ples man­age­rial skills that could be trans­ferred across fields — in­clud­ing the non­profit sec­tor we’re a part of.

Ms. Co­ples had worked with other pro­grams in ear­lier at­tempts to grow. But none, she said, worked as well as the com­bi­na­tion of Mar­ian House’s nur­tur­ing and Hu­manim’s qual­ity pro­gram­ming and sup­port.

I too can at­test to the power of both non­prof­its.

At Live Bal­ti­more we work to grow the city’s pop­u­la­tion and be­lieve it’s im­por­tant to con­trib­ute to the suc­cess of the city by hir­ing city res­i­dents and re­duc­ing un­em­ploy­ment. So, we of­ten join with pro­grams and agen­cies to find res­i­dents with bar­ri­ers like Ms. Co­ples’ — those who are of­ten over­looked. Frankly, the re­cruit­ment process has not al­ways been so pos­i­tive.

But in ad­di­tion to im­pec­ca­bly train­ing Ms. Co­ples, Hu­manim worked with us to make sure they un­der­stood the kind of per­son we needed. Skills were im­por­tant, but char­ac­ter, drive and love for the city were even more so. Hu­manim lis­tened to us and put their needs to “place” a trainee in a job well be­hind our need to find the right fit. They also con­tin­ued to part­ner with us even af­ter Ms. Co­ples’ start date to en­sure that all par­ties were sat­is­fied.

“This jobs helps me re­con­nect with my city,” Ms. Co­ples says now. “I be­lieve we have so many great things here and even though I’ve lived here all my life, I didn’t know about them.”

And while she’s learn­ing, we’re get­ting to learn more about her. She’s grow­ing and happy, but our or­ga­ni­za­tion is the real win­ner here. Our de­light at hav­ing found Ms. Co­ples isn’t sim­ply a feel-good story. It is a les­son learned for all of us: This is what hap­pens when gov­ern­ments and non­prof­its work to­gether truly for the bet­ter­ment of Bal­ti­more’s res­i­dents and busi­nesses.

If we are go­ing to turn things around in the city, it’s im­per­a­tive that we all do our part — whether that’s a small or­ga­ni­za­tion hir­ing one per­son or a large com­pany hir­ing hun­dreds.

And we should take care to re­mem­ber that it took sig­nif­i­cant cost, ef­fort and fund­ing from the city, as well as the care and ex­per­tise of three non­prof­its — Mar­ian House, Hu­manim and Live Bal­ti­more — to turn just one life around. But that one life mat­ters; Chadras Co­ples is worth it.

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