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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Pathways to Work and Better Health

As commencement ceremonies begin taking place around the city, Kristen Goff reflects on her life up to this point. “After I graduated from my GED program, I was in a lot of internships. It was kind of frustrating because they were so temporary.” Goff is certified in hospitality, but it wasn’t enough to help her gain permanent employment.

She found out that AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia was sponsoring a job readiness program from the Department of Employment Services and decided to give it a try.

After engaging in the 12-week program, Goff is celebrating a commencement of her own. “It was pretty hard to find permanent employment. I didn’t have any work experience other than summer jobs. I was frustrated because I was being turned down for not having enough experience. And now with all that’s happening to me, I feel very blessed.”

AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia (yes, the health insurance organization) has successfully trained Goff along with 13 other interns for employment opportunities through the Pathway to Work program.

Movement to Middle Class Starts Here
AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia initiated its first job-readiness program in March. The Pathways to Work program began with 14 interns who needed a boost in their skills and exposure to the myriad of job opportunities available to them. It was created, in part, to support Mayor Bowser’s plan for moving more families into the middle class by providing better access to job training.

The training included workshops and classes on topics such as communication skills, emotional intelligence, dressing for success, healthcare, and computer literacy. Some of the soft-skill topics that were covered were things like time management, workplace etiquette, and career planning. The program also offered help with life skills that would help balance work life, such as mental health wellness and financial literacy.

Karen Dale, market president for AmeriHealth Caritas DC, explains how the program focuses on strengthening skills. “The key is knowing how to function in a work environment. We teach them how to be resourceful and find things on their own. And if you have support such as a mentor, that can leverage their assets.”

She adds, “There is a level of despondency when women are coming from more challenging work environments where they are overwhelmed with where to start and how to start. It can lead to early failure, which may cause them to want to give up. We want to show them that they have lots of assets and give them an opportunity to practice.”

Wealth = Health
What does that have to do with health, one might ask? Apparently, a lot.

Steady employment leads to better income and health benefits, which is part of the foundation for good health. That leads to stability. And there are mental health benefits to steady employment. A 2010 Gallup poll found that employed Americans were much less likely to suffer from depression and experience feelings of sadness and worry than those who were unemployed.

Dale states that addressing employment helps the overall community in the long run, which can be great for health. “This fits the framework of addressing the social needs in the community. It’s part of our mission.”

She sees a large return on an investment in the community broadly, not only in the context of health. “We focused, in our recruiting, on families with children under the age of 18 because there’s this intergenerational improvement that occurs. When parents go to work, that family isn’t under the same amount of stress. There are economic benefits, but there are also health benefits of not having the stress.”

In March 2016, Mayor Bowser announced the Pathways to Middle Class plan. Since the plan was unveiled, initiatives such as the L.E.A.P. (Learn, Earn, Advance, Prosper) and DC Career Connections programs have rolled out, and notable changes were made to the Workforce Investment Council. All are focused on improving chances for long-term employment and providing stability to residents. Employment leads to improved health outcomes and longer life expectancy.

Sharing Their Story
The interns had an opportunity to visit Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) to present their perspectives on the program and how beneficial it has been to them. Grosso was intrigued by the interns’ work and hopes to see the program grow.

“I was incredibly impressed with the interns that came in to meet with me,” says Grosso. “I believe they’re on the right path now to get full employment and move forward in their careers. I was impressed with their understanding of the system and the training they got with AmeriHealth to help them prepare, whether it’s for an office setting or any other type of workplace. It was really an impressive program.”

The interns have completed the program, and three have been placed in permanent positions with AmeriHealth including Goff. On May 31, she began her new position as a care connector. She hopes to complete a bachelor’s program at the University of the District of Columbia in social work and start a social work program.

“Through the program we had a lot of training, and it was very beneficial to sharpen skills I already have and learn things I may not already know,” Goff remarks. “I’ve taken other classes prior to that one and I’m certified in hospitality, but this [program] was really, really good.”

A new class of interns will be starting in the near future to keep the promise of putting more people on the pathway to permanent employment and success in life.


Candace Y.A. Montague is the health reporter for Capital Community News.

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