Daily Point of Light # 2831 Dec 10, 2004

Connectinc. Combines skilled counselors with sophisticated computer and communications technologies to help rural residents of North Carolina find and keep jobs, develop career and build assets. Connectinc.’s success has meant greater economic security for thousands of low-income families, scattered across a dozen rural counties.

When Jackie Savage envisioned a state-of-the-art communications center turned into a human services delivery system, she knew that highly trained counselors would be essential.

One woman who called, and stayed on the line, is Sue Troublefield, a mother of seven who found employment in rural Scotland County, N.C., through Connectinc. “Around here, job leads are slim to none,” says Troublefield, who praises Work Central for calling her almost daily with information about local jobs that could improve her financial future.

Though most of her grown children have left home, two teens and a seven-year-old grandchild depend upon Troublefield’s earnings at a convenience store. Her Work Central counselor has made sure Troublefield, who quit school in the eleventh grade, has access to services that will help her acquire a GED, plus asset-building supports such as a checking account and applications for tax credits.

Through the call center, Connectinc.’s creators knew they could reach virtually all families without requiring them to travel long distances. Instead of spending hours arranging childcare and then transportation to access services, clients can get support via phone to fulfill their roles as parents and earners. Counselors use three-way calling to help clients set up interviews; the call center faxes or e-mails resumes and job applications to potential employers while the call takes place.

“We are customer-driven and always checking in to see what we can do to help. “We work with families until they say they no longer need us, and then we ask if we can call back in six months because, you know, life changes.”

Founded in 1999 to support former welfare recipients making a transition to the work force. Connectinc. encourages families to thing long-term. Among 4,400 former TANF clients who entered Connectinc’s program between 2000 and 2002, 84 percent remain employed and their combined earnings top $41 million. Several hundred Connectinc. customers have opened bank accounts, and customers referred to free tax preparation have claimed more than $250,000 in tax refunds. Connectinc.’s unique delivery system has helped 1,000 displaced tobacco workers apply for unemployment benefits, and a pilot program is now supporting low-income textile workers in applying for IRS health coverage tax credits. Connectinc. has also launched Teach Central, a program designed to help rural communities retain teachers by using three-way calling to connect first-year novices with experienced classroom mentors. “Strengthening education is one way to support economic development in rural communities,” Savage contends.