Hometown Hires aims to break poverty

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Connecting those stuck in chronic unemployment or intergenerational poverty to the employers that can help break that cycle is the mission of Hometown Hires, a campaign founded in 2014 by New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David and Live Oak Bank CEO Chip Mahan.

While he began forming an idea for the campaign during his experiences handling a growing number of violent and gang-related crimes, David said the program is not just designed for those who have criminal backgrounds.

“The truth is anyone can become eligible for Hometown Hires regardless of whether they have committed a crime or not,” David said by telephone Monday, Nov. 24. “There are many people in Hometown Hires that have never been in trouble in their life, they are simply trying to raise their families and stuck in chronic unemployment or generational poverty or both.”

Hometown Hires formed in a partnership with lead organization United Way of the Cape Fear along with Cape Fear Community College.

David said the individuals in the program have to live in the Brunswick, Pender or New Hanover County area for at least one year and must be referred from one of the United Way’s many partner nonprofit organizations.

“We turn to those folks that work directly with those families and ask who they think is a reliable, squared-away person and if they would hire that person if they could,” he said. “We want someone who is firmly rooted in this community for the ripple effect.”

In addition to being referred by one of those organizations, individuals must also subject to a review by a three-person board in the United Way and a background investigation, which is being offered free of charge for Hometown Hires by Castle Branch.

Public awareness of Hometown Hires came when it was announced Nov. 13 that Vertex Technologies would bring 1,300 jobs to the Wilmington area and 10 percent of those hires would come from the Hometown Hires program.

However, David said Vertex was just one of the companies that has partnered with Hometown Hires. In the past several months, David said he and Mahan have spoken with around 100 area CEOs to encourage their companies to hire at least one person from the program. Some larger employers like Vertex have committed to hiring multiple individuals.

“They simply need to get in front of the employer. We said, ‘Don’t hire them if they are not the best candidate, you don’t run a charity, you run a business,’” David said. “All we ask with this campaign is, when you have an opening, call United Way.”

David said the partnership with Cape Fear Community College would allow potential employees access to technical or life skills training if an employer finds someone in the Hometown Hires program.

From the beginning, Hometown Hires set a goal of 300 individuals hired but with 35 already in place and 150 pending from Vertex, David said the campaign was well on its way to breaking its goal within the next year.

“This is the most fun I have ever had as district attorney,” he said. “This is Wilmington, not Washington; it is not government but the private sector marrying with nonprofits and it is not a handout. Those three things distinguish it from the hundreds of government programs that have come out in the past 50 years.”

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