In 2020, the newly elected mayor of Savannah, Ga., Van R. Johnson II, with the cooperation of the city council, fulfilled one of his campaign promises by creating eight task forces, including the Racial Equity and Leadership task force, aimed at examining the racial disparities and equity in the city. In October 2021, the 45-members of that team brought their recommendations to city leadership.
“One of the things they spoke to was early childhood centers and ensuring that there’s opportunities for our young people to advance at an early age,” Reid said. “They saw that as a correlation between having individuals in the classroom who are certified even at that age of early childhood development. When we were looking at opportunities for bringing programs into our centers that our staff could implement, that felt like one we could actually go after and put some weight behind.”
In May, two job training programs funded by the city, began their first cohort.
“We’ve seen a tremendous response,” Savannah Director of Human Services Kerri Reid said. “Both classes are full and the next cohort is full, so we’re seeing a lot of traction and interest. The hope is that once the funds are depleted, we’ll be able to sustain these programs with other funding.”
The job training programs are housed at the city’s resource centers, which provide additional wraparound services for any individual seeking a variety of supports, including public benefits assistance, job training, after-school programs and health and wellness classes. By using this location, a partnership has been formed with the facilities that provide the services.
“It’s kind of like a win-win,” Reid said.
The Emerge Job Training Program is one of two programs that came from the Racial Equity and Leadership task force. It provides scholarships for training in high-demand jobs in the area and a location to teach them in. Currently, the city of Savannah offers just two categories of free education programs: the Culinary Kitchen Cook Certifications program, which garners students certifications in America Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute Kitchen Cook Certification, Customer Service Certification of Completion and ServSafe Manager Certification; and the Child Development Associate Certification, which provides a certification issued by the Council of Professional Recognition.
“One of the things that we noticed over the years is that there are a lot of people who have the desire to enter into the workforce, but they may lack the competitive edge,” Reid said. “Considering that our resource centers provide individuals with opportunities for advancement, we saw them as natural partners.”
The Child Development Associate Certification is a 12-week program offered at the Moses Jackson Advancement Center. The Culinary Kitchen Certifications program is an eight-week program offered at the Pennsylvania Avenue Resource Center.
“Both of them are on bus lines. Both are in areas close to neighborhood schools, where people can walk to them. They literally are right smack-dab in the middle of communities. Around both of the resource centers there are probably about five neighborhoods, so folks have access. It’s not something that’s far away or downtown in the middle of traffic.”
Culinary Kitchen Cook is a partnership between the city and Savannah Technical College, which provides the training and campus resources, while the city provides tuition costs.
“We’ve actually had people from outside the city of Savannah calling us for these services,” Reid said, explaining that long-term, they’d like to be able to provide services to community neighbors.
The funding source for the Child Development Associate Certification is the city’s general funds. The program aligns itself with the Community Development Block Grant guidelines to determine eligibility for its participants. Additional programs are being considered as well, including manufacturing.
“It was a lot of research and meetings with our partners,” Reid said. “Everything that we do starts with research and ‘is there a need?’ What is the need in the community, and is it based on a city council priority?”
Savannah’s resource centers were already equipped with commercial-grade kitchens. Prior to COVID-19, they would partner with local restaurants to offer cooking classes. “We already had the classroom space, and we had the commercial-grade kitchens that are vetted by the health department. It just felt natural to try to bring programming into that space to benefit the residents of Savannah.”