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Phoenix Employment Ministry Takes Hometown Hires Under Its Wing

By Jenny Callison, posted Sep 23, 2015
District attorney Ben David speaks at the announcement of the Phoenix Employment Ministry - Hometown Hires merger (Photo by Jenny Callison)
Hometown Hires, a local program designed to help chronically unemployed adults overcome barriers to employment and land jobs, has found a new home.

From its inception in 2013, the program has been under the United Way of the Cape Fear Area umbrella, but officials announced at a news conference Wednesday that Hometown Hires is now integrating into Phoenix Employment Ministry, and the merged organization will be known as Phoenix Hometown Hires.

As of Oct. 1, all Hometown Hires staff will transition from United Way to Phoenix Employment Ministry, and donors “will be transitioned as well,” said United Way executive director Chris Nelson. “We’re pleased as punch to partner with an organization like Phoenix. We are proud to be letting our child [Hometown Hires] go ... although we expect it to come home occasionally to do the wash, borrow the car keys or, more likely, ask for money.”

Phoenix Employment Ministry, which former executive director Don Skinner recently said has helped more than 750 people find jobs since its inception in 2002, is a United Way funded partner organization.

Nelson said his organization will “stay as active” in Hometown Hires as possible, but that Phoenix was better positioned to take over. “It’s what [Phoenix] has done for several years,” he said.

Nelson said after Wednesday's press conference that in the spring, United Way will accept grant applications in the financial stability category, and he expects Phoenix will be among the applicants.

Playing on the meaning of the phoenix, a mythical bird that rises from its own ashes, New Hanover County district attorney Ben David announced at the news conference that Phoenix was “rising” to the fourth floor of the Harrelson Building in downtown Wilmington. For the past several years, the organization has occupied 1,200 square feet on the complex’s street level. When construction is complete on the 1,800 square feet of new space (at left), the organization will move upstairs.   

“While we’re under construction, we are open for business,” said David, who was involved in the creation of Hometown Hires and who moderated the news conference. He noted that Travis Smith, one of Hometown Hires early participants, was hired by Monteith Construction and is now the project manager for Monteith’s build-out of the fourth floor space for Phoenix.

Phoenix, whose annual budget is now $405,000, expects to expand and double its staff within five years, said the organization’s executive director, Will Rikard. Phoenix currently employs five people full time and two people part time.

Until now, Phoenix and Hometown Hires have had slightly differing conditions for program admission, Nelson said. Phoenix Employment Ministry has been more flexible in terms of residency and employment background, while Hometown Hires has looked for program candidates who have lived in the local community for a specified length of time and have a family network here, and who also come from a background of inter-generational poverty.

“They are trying to get a ripple effect” from helping a person get into stable employment and become a role model for his family and neighborhood, Nelson explained.

Rikard said that Phoenix Hometown Hires will take a hybrid approach to admission. All candidates, he said, must pass a drug test, have been sober for at least 90 days and have no pending legal charges. Beyond that, admission will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

“We will work with each individual,” he said. “We are employer-driven. They tell us what kind of person they are looking for and we provide that person.”

In his remarks, David praised Live Oak Bank chairman Chip Mahan for leading the business community’s participation in Hometown Hires, and added his thanks to other companies and organizations that have been involved in the effort, including SunTrust Bank, PPD, New Hanover Regional Medical Center, Vertex Railcar Corp., Cape Fear Community College, CastleBranch Corp. and Coastal Horizons.
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