Outreach Fair Advertises Services

By Katie Little
UNC Editor
the Durham VOICE

Although Lyons Park resident Bessie Patterson blasts the heat to 77 degrees, her home is still drafty.

“I’m sitting in there with a thin nightgown with air going all around my feet,” said Patterson, a retired nursing technician. “I’m paying to heat the outside.”

Wilburn Oziogu tells Bessie Patterson about the different services available for seniors at Operation Breakthrough. Patterson came to the services fair to find out about resources available to increase the energy efficiency of her Lyons Park home. (Photo by: Katie Little)

To fix her insulation problems, she turned to Operation Breakthrough’s Services Outreach Fair at the Holton Career and Resource Center.

Organizers held the fair from March 15 to 18 to publicize Operation Breakthrough’s available services, especially two programs that just received extra funding from the stimulus fund.

“We’re basically building up our clientele now,” said Wilburn Oziogu, a case manager with the organization’s community recovery outreach program who is originally from Charlotte. “That’s what the fair is about — trying to get the word out.”

Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 is providing money for community recovery outreach and home-weatherization programs.

The community recovery outreach program works with clients to assist them in gaining employment.

Program participants first attend a budget class to help them manage their money. They also gain computer skills in Microsoft Word and Excel. After they learn those skills, they build their resumes and practice interviewing techniques, Oziogu said.

“These are generally skills that have not been taught to the people that we serve,” Oziogu said. “It’s almost a necessity.”

The program tailors job searches to the needs of its clients by providing funding and resources for them to find positions. Popular areas of job placement include construction and health care.

Oziogu said some of his clients have criminal backgrounds, which can limit the places they can work and make their job search more difficult.

LaTronce Armstrong, originally from Washington, D.C., knows firsthand the difficulties job seekers with criminal backgrounds face.

Armstrong came to the fair to find resources for the unemployed, financial assistance for college and job-training programs.

“I’ve been filling out applications a couple of places,” Armstrong said. “I was wondering if there was some kind of program where I could get assistance for people with felonies.”

Although all of her felonies have been dismissed, they are still on her record, she said. Her criminal record has made it even more difficult for her to find a job in the sluggish economy.

She said she hoped Operation Breakthrough could help her obtain the required training to work as a certified nursing assistant or in a pharmacy.

“Anything I can do to better me and my kids’ life, I would want to do,” Armstrong said. “I want to get a trade.”

Another program that the fair emphasized was weatherization, which provides home improvements to increase homes’ energy efficiency. To qualify, an individual’s income may not exceed twice the federal poverty guideline.

Operation Breakthrough just received a $1.6 million grant to weatherize 750 homes for the next two years, according to ARRA records.

By installing newer thermostats, energy-efficient light bulbs and showerheads, the weatherization program aims to lower participants’ energy bills, said Pearlie Lewis, the inventory clerk for weatherization.

“Hopefully it will help our seniors be able to afford their energy bills by lowering it to something they could afford to pay,” Lewis said.

Even more people will now be able to benefit from the weatherization program since the income limit for qualifying was recently increased to 200 percent of the poverty threshold, Lewis said.

On average, weatherizing a home cuts $300 from a home’s annual energy bill, said Roy McKoy, the outreach coordinator for weatherization.

“The success is when people can say, ‘My home is warm enough — it feels good now,’ or when we hear their energy bill went down,” said McKoy.

The financial assistance that Operation Breakthrough provides has been especially helpful recently, Mary Martin, a board member of Operation Breakthrough from Durham, said.

“Particularly now in the economic downturn,” she said “We’re seeing more people who are unemployed and unable to meet their basic needs so we’re trying the best we can to provide for them.”