We Are Hope staff, board work to save service after funding cut
Unless an angel swoops in with funding, the job center in Door County will close its doors come Oct. 1.
“We were notified in June that they were eliminating funding for the Door County Job Center reception and resource room,” said Kim Carley, executive director of We Are Hope, the organization that oversees the job center in its offices at the Cherry Point Mall in Sturgeon Bay. “What that means, as of Oct. 1, [is] there’s not going to be a job center in Door County. We’ve been trying to do what we can on our end to see if we can avoid that, but it doesn’t appear [as though] that’s going to happen.”
How important is the job center? Carley said 260 individuals sought help from the job center in June alone, and it served 4,328 job seekers in 2018.
“We want people to understand what We Are Hope does as an agency, and that our goal is – our board of directors and staff – are committed to keeping some sort of job-resource center open to the public because we know what it means to the community,” she said.
Carley knows very well the importance of the services We Are Hope provides because she’s been involved with the organization for the past 17 years.
“I got involved because I walked through the doors looking for a job,” she said. “I’m one of those individuals that went through pretty much every single program and got all the help I could, and ended up being hired. I truly believe in the services that we provide, and I know the community will continue to need that resource.”
“It was totally shocking to us,” said Jackie Mathein, president of the We Are Hope board of directors. “We had an emergency meeting to throw out ideas. We had to come up with a plan of action, including, if we wanted to stay open, how are we going to self-fund it?”
How much do the staff and board members believe in the work of the job center? Since the announcement of the Oct. 1 closing, they have chipped in $11,386 to help keep it open. That’s about $34,000 short of its annual budget.
“That shows the commitment our board and the staff have to making sure these services continue,” Carley said.
“We need to raise a heck of a lot more to keep going,” Mathein said. “Telling job seekers to go to the job center in Green Bay or Sheboygan – are they crazy? That’s logistically insane. And you’re telling this to people who are unemployed. We have no mass transit. It makes absolutely no sense.”
Funding for job centers around the state comes from the federal government, which also dictates how those funds can be spent, to the state, which doles out the money to the 11 regional workforce-development boards in the state, which then supply funding to local job centers. The Bay Area Workforce Development Board oversees 11 counties in northeast Wisconsin, including Door County. The job center in Manitowoc is also scheduled to shut down Oct. 1.
“It breaks my heart since we have done a lot in 10 years to make sure services were accessible to anyone who wanted them,” said James Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board. “Unfortunately, I just can’t do that anymore.”
Golembeski said the state Dept. of Workforce Development wanted to close down all but 11 regional centers back in 2008, meaning job seekers in all 11 counties served by the board would have had to have gone to the Green Bay job-service center.
“My agency, because we had some funding at that point, managed to keep the job centers open for 10 years,” he said. “I’ve taken huge budget cuts in the last three years, and I can no longer afford to do that [keep the non-Green Bay job-service offices open]. I feel badly about that, but I can’t spend money I don’t have. Believe me, I didn’t want to pull the funding. I’ve kept the place open 10 years longer than the state wanted it.”
Golembeski also pointed out that it’s not just job seekers who need the service.
“Our employers need us as much as our job seekers. They can’t find people,” he said. “I’m still willing to talk to any employer who wants to contact me in terms of strategies on how to find people.”
We Are Hope was under contract with the Bay Area Workforce Development Board to provide job services in Door County, but according to the Department of Labor, those funds were not meant to support a job service in Door County.
“They [the federal government] are no longer allowing me to contract with We Are Hope or anybody else to do those kinds of things,” Golembeski said. “So I’m waiting to see what they are going to do about the Door County job center, and I don’t know what they’re going to do yet.”
Department of Workforce Development Secretary-Designee Caleb Frostman issued the following statement:
“The federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding has been steadily declining for the past few years due to the improved national economy and lower unemployment. It is the federal government alone that dictates WIOA funding levels to each state and how those funds can be spent. Each workforce development area within the state is funded via a formula that considers relevant demographic and economic data that indicates relative need within the state. There is no discretion on the part of the state as to how much each workforce development region is funded. Once funded, specific WIOA funding decisions within each workforce development region are made by the workforce development board, Bay Area in the case of the Door County job center, not by the state’s workforce agency (DWD) or the governor.
“The Bay Area Workforce Development Board is to be commended for their great service to the Door County area over the past many years. It is evident from their long history serving the center that the difficult decision to close the job center at Cherry Point Mall was not taken lightly, nor made in haste.
“Regardless of amount or sources of funding and whether the job center is ultimately closed as predicted, DWD will continue to work with all of its partners, including the Bay Area Workforce Development Board, to deliver quality job services to Door County and its residents. In a rapidly changing job marketplace, it is likely that service delivery models will change to include libraries, additional online capabilities, and mobile job centers that can deliver on-site job services to all population centers in Door County.
“We look forward to continuing to serve the residents of Door County with our many partners, including the Bay Area Workforce Development Board.”
Golembeski suggested that anyone who is concerned about the loss of the job service in Door County should contact Rep. Mike Gallagher, Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Ron Johnson about increased funding for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which provides funding for job centers.
Carley agreed that people need to contact legislators about the closing of the job center.
“Contact representatives, and let them know this is something we need in the community,” she said. “We also want to receive testimonials from employers or anyone who has used our service in the past 40 years to share their story.”
We Are Hope board president Mathein said the board voted 6-1 to send a letter to Gov. Tony Evers about the situation.
“And I think we’ll send it to Caleb Frostman,” she said, referring to the secretary-designee of Workforce Development and former executive director of the Door County Economic Development Corporation. “Caleb’s a great guy, and he knows what it’s like up here.”
Mathein also put in a plug for donations.
“It’s amazing all the work that’s done in that little office in Cherry Point Mall,” she said. “The smallest donation can help. If somebody that we have helped could donate $5, $10, $20. I do know we have a lot of wealthy people up here, and if they could open their pocketbooks to help us. Every company that we’ve helped find employees, if they could reach into their pockets to help us. We are going to be asking people. We’re working here to help all of you. Please contribute so we can stay open.”