Espri Overview

Organizers assess the progress of Watertown's $1 million Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) Grant

An overview of the progress of Watertown's Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative was held Jan. 10, 2019 at the Watertown City Hall for members of the ESPRI Steering Committee and other interested citizens.

Jefferson County's Department of Employment and Training and three non-profit agencies are using state funding since March of 2018 to work on anti-poverty efforts such as the Wheels to Work, Getting Ahead, Housing Rehabilitation and Employer Resource Network programs.

Mayor Joseph Butler gave an overview of the ESPRI goals and explained that Watertown was the first city in the state of New York to have its programs approved as well as to receive funding from the state.

Bob Gorman, CEO of the United Way of NNY presented materials for attendees, which included: ESPRI Progress Review, Steering Committee and Community Advocates, Letter to Liz Morrisey at Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, ESPRI Monthly Report, Watertown ESPRI Summary and the Financial Claim Report.

Gorman said that it is important to have people who have experienced poverty help to create these four programs because they have a better understanding of it than anyone else. He also said that there has been much achievement because organizers worked together. The state government, he noted, gave the city $1 million dollars and said "you tell us what you're going to do" with it.

Peter Schmitt announced that he and Gorman went to a meeting in Albany to meet with all programs from all over New York. The full plan behind this was not on the same page (such as other Cities in NY) but Watertown got fully involved with, included everyone.

Dawn Cole and Robert Bowen from Watertown Urban Mission presented the Wheels to Work program, which was organized to keep individuals in work with transportation. They were provided $150,000 from the ESPRI Grant and the program has provided 59 households with transportation related services.

  • A vehicle was purchased for approximately $4,000 and each low-income Watertown individual/family who received a vehicle for transportation to their job has to pay $100 a month for a total of six months.
  • This program has also spent a total of $35,700 for 32 vehicle repairs.
  • Recipients were also assisted in acquiring insurance for their vehicles through the Department of Motor Vehicles and learned about vehicle maintenance.
  • So far, on January 10th, 75% of recipients of vehicles through this program have remained employed and 12 of the provided vehicles are still on the road.
  • The Watertown Urban Mission officials say that they have only received positive feedback about this program from people who were helped by it. Robert Bowen believes that paying the $4,000 was worth it and a smarter deal because the cars didn't need as much work as the cheaper cars.

What the Watertown Urban Mission officials have learned:

  • They overestimated smaller repairs
  • Relationship approach – "more of a human service approach"
  • There should have been a different payment schedule
  • Should be seeking for more motivated people

Sarah Yerdon (graduate of program) and Mary Jane Mathewson from The Community Action Planning Council of Jefferson County presented the Bridges out of Poverty and "Getting Ahead in a just Getting By World" workshops. So far there have been 33 graduates from this program of 16-week ongoing workshops. Organizers believe that this program is a great success. This program is continuing to help people after they graduate. This program was given $196,000 from the ESPRI Grant.

Cheryl Mayforth and Cathy Brodeur presented Jefferson County Department of Employment and Training which began in April with a $175,000 grant. The funding provided is being used to implement the Employee Resource Network. This program will connect employers with success coaches for their employees that are struggling with poverty in the community. Cathy Brodeur shared that this program is supposed to be helping employees that are having basic life challenges get through those challenges to keep their jobs.

  • There are four employers that are working on job retention efforts right now: Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown Family YMCA, Community Action Planning Council and Jefferson Rehabilitation Center.
  • There has been one success coach for the four employers, if one more employer joins, there will need to be another success coach hired.
  • With it being initially hard to get employers involved with this program, officials say they want to have a total of ten employers on board.

Peter Schmitt asked what the current outcomes were for this program. It seems to be costing $4,500 to employ one employee. At Samaritan it is closer to $4,000.

Cheryl Mayforth explained that if an employee moves to a higher paying job, that is a success. Some organizations can't pay the wages need or people who are not skilled enough for the job but if people can maintain a job that is also a success.

Reginald Schweitzer, Neighbors of Watertown and Amanda LeDesma, Executive Director of Thousand Islands Area Habitat for Humanity for the Pathway to Home Ownership program was granted $300,000. While working with Development Authority of the North Country and Neighbors of Watertown and the City of Watertown, homes are bought in distressed areas, rehabilitated and then sold to low-income families. The goal for this program was to help eight households but there will probably be a total of 12 by the end who receive assistance. Reg Schweitzer believes that this program will be a success and he explained that it took a while to get the process going but now they are moving forward with the program.

Overall, Bob Gorman believes that this ESPRI program should be a model for New York State and Peter Schmitt says that the group efforts "a well convinced program."