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Edmundite Missions and Workforce Development
For 85 years Edmundite Missions has been a natural force in the Selma economy and that of surrounding rural areas. Today, the Missions employs 50 full and part time staff members, with jobs ranging from basic kitchen and maintenance work up to MA and Ph.D. level managers. The direct and multiplier effect into the Selma economy is estimated to be between $15 and $20 million per year.
Beyond its presence as an employer, purchaser and provider of goods and services, the Missions has created a series of programs with direct objectives for workforce development.
Initiatives in Progress
The Bridges at the Missions Apprenticeship Program was developed to focus on unemployed young adults. The program brings young adults who have recently been laid off or lost their jobs into the Missions for 9-12 months of tune-up in skills and job performance. The emphasis is understanding and addressing the causes of poor job performance, with an emphasis on soft skills such as teamwork, time management and communications. As paid staff members, Bridges Apprentices earn while they learn. Each Apprentice meets weekly with the Missions Director of Catholic Social Ministries for personal counseling sessions that increase social emotional skills. The Missions then helps them find new stable jobs. Bridges alumni are now to be found in the Selma fire department, the water department, the regional hospital, local manufacturing companies that produce inputs for the Montgomery Hyundai plant, and similar stable organizations.
The Forward with the Missions Fellows Program is a partnership with the nursing program of Wallace Community College Selma, supporting LPN graduates who have matriculated into the RN program to complete their nursing degrees. Research identified the RN dropout rate as a function of home and incomes crises. While the LPN degree can be pursued on a part-time basis allowing full-time work to support a family, an RN requires intense clinical hours which impede even full-time employment and intense academics which often interrupt even part time employment. Yet, RN starting salaries are at least twice those of an LPN and nursing is a pathway to the middle class. The Missions provides support to home expenses that interrupt schooling (e.g., a car missed car payment) as well as personal counseling to boost social emotional learning and academic confidence. All Fellows who have completed the RN program to date have passed their licensure exams and are employed in the health system. One has even bought her own home.
The Edmundite Missions Academy is a program for 7-10th graders that combines intensive academic improvement with direct experience with careers and professions and includes an “Experiential Earnings” component of summer jobs in local businesses and nonprofits. The Success Fund of The Academy then continues to support Academy alumni through their freshman year in college. The Academy provides students with real professional and career experiences and personal relationships with professionals. The knowledge that there is a reason to study, that a profession is not just possible in general but it is possible for you, provides an incentive to focus on academics. The Academy also brings students – often for the first time in their lives – to college campuses, large and small near and far, so that the prospect of college is real and realistic.
The Black Farmers Initiative, in partnership with the Deep South Food Alliance, is using the power of the Missions food procurement to drive resources into the local agricultural economy and providing technical assistance to farmers to transform their farms into productive businesses. At its Mosses, Alabama Good Shepherd Food Mart, the Missions now purchases fresh fruits and vegetables exclusively from local farmers. In addition, and with the support of the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, the Missions and DSFA will begin making impact grants directly to black farmers for infrastructure improvements (e.g., fencing or refrigeration in barns) that will increase production and improve quality of the produce that reaches the market, thereby enabling businesses to grow.
In 2022, with support from the Catholic Sisters Initiative of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Missions is launching two additional workforce efforts. These build out from the scale of the Missions reach in the community on the one hand and its entrepreneurial experience based on its social enterprise, Edmundite Missions Enterprises, on the other. Enterprises is a food-based social business operating a catering service and a line of pecan products out of the Bosco Nutrition Center, thereby providing employees and Bridges Apprentices experience with market-based skills.
Vocational Education. Through its Bullock Community and Recreation Center and its nutrition programs, and its nutrition outreach to the Selma and Southside high schools, the Missions touches the lives of hundreds of youth and young adults each day. The Missions will tie this organic access to the potential workforce into the training programs of Wallace Community College Selma and the local businesses by providing wrap around social, economic, and counseling services to WCCS enrollees to ensure that they do not leave the program because of family crisis (a very common outcome in Selma) and have the job interview and resume development skills to land and keep a job. The Missions is partnering with WCCS to track service recipients and document the impact that such a wrap-around approach can have not just on job acquisition but also on job retention.
Micro-Business. In addition, the Missions is experimenting with combining its knowledge of food and nutrition via its Bosco Nutrition Center with micro-business development. In Selma, many women sell baked or preserved foods out of their homes. The Hilton Culinary Arts Entrepreneurship Fund will provide business training and ServSafe public health certification to see if those informal economy efforts can be structured into micro-businesses that have the potential to create more significant incomes for these families. This is an experimental effort, but there has been some success with such an approach at the Catholic Charities of Omaha and of Tucson. The Missions is examining those models carefully to inform its own efforts.
Expanding training through the Bosco Nutrition Center and Edmundite Missions Enterprises is a key program priority. The Missions has a three-part long-term plan to capitalize on its food-based knowledge beyond the micro-business initiative noted above. That involves