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Pay It Forward Initiative

The Pay It Forward Initiative takes an innovative approach to helping underserved populations find employment. It identifies opportunities with employer partners and then underwrites a 16-week internship for clients. Job training, business and finance classes, counseling, and help with overcoming any barriers to employment are part of the package.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Pay It Forward Initiative Executive Director Charlie Cavell: The reason I started it when I was 19 was because you can train someone and send them off on a job or place someone on a job if they are trained, but restrictions to funding often preclude you from providing a person with whatever necessary life resources they need. Most agencies are not doing that. Our job coaches drop people off at jobs because the bus is late; they make sure they have stable housing.  We need people to have that love, and I didn’t think other programs could bridge those gaps or break those silos. We have tried to address attrition by taking the whole person into account in a real sense. We really take that to heart.
Our job coaches drop people off at jobs because the bus is late; they make sure they have stable housing.

It all comes down to our job coaches -- our people don’t get paid a lot, and they work really hard. We are also very cost-effective. We are innovative. We have a lot of passion in what we do and because we’re small, because we’re new, because we’re young, we are able to be flexible in what we do.
When we work with the Michigan Economic Development Corp., or other funders, or our corporate sponsors, we want to make sure flexibility is retained. We don’t have large structural costs, just payroll and accounting. When there is a job, we find the person; not the other way around. That allows us to have better results, which is the ultimate justification for the funding. Our goal is to make a career path with our folks. People have to know their inner potential, and they have to tap it. We say to our people, “Hey, you want to be more than this -- how do you want your life to play out? Because it’s your life and you can make it happen.”
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
The lesson I learned is that I realized I was in my own little bubble, and kind of monastic. I was doing all the administrative work, which had nothing to do with providing jobs for people. One day I had spent my whole afternoon doing spreadsheets, and the copy of the Constitution I keep with me fell out of my binder. I realized this is why I do this -- it’s about people making their own freedom. You have to balance your life. The good thing with Pay It Forward is that we don’t freak out. When we’re going for a grant, if we get it, then we get a chance to move forward. In the worst case, we’ll close our doors next week, but we’ll all still be doing what we’re doing. Pay It Forward is the engine that drives the mission -- our goal is just to help people in the way we see fit.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
When the MEDC gave us some money to run this program starting in March and they gave it to us in November. When we got the commitment from MEDC they told us: “Here’s half the money. Go find the other half.” We thought they meant to match 
The good thing with Pay It Forward is that we don’t freak out. When we’re going for a grant, if we get it, then we get a chance to move forward.
the initial pilot grant, but we had to find another $110,000 by the end of the year, a week before Thanksgiving, and we were really stressing out. The hardest thing I have to learn, again, is finding balance -- do you live to work or work to live? You have to be able to celebrate and have a balance, and work will be there. There are good days and bad days and you have to make sure the good days are great and the bad days are over with quick.
What really differentiates this program?
Our people are so great; it’s the passion of our people. We have all these amazing people who step up for us. They have a lot of patience; they work with our clients -- and they work with me! As an example, one of our job coaches had her phone ring at 4 p.m., and one of our clients had to get a restraining order against a customer who hit him at his job. How could she have expected to get that at four o’clock in afternoon? But she did it, as well as calling the employer to let them know they wouldn’t be in the next day to deal with this, and smooth everything over. Those sorts of things show the passion our people have…she was on a walk with her husband when she got this call!
What are the keys to success for your program?
The love we have and the understanding; that creates the love for our clients and love for what we do. We’re also very transparent. We talk about our budget at our weekly staff meetings and you learn so much. At any other organization you don’t talk about everything, and we will even if we become a big organization. We have an open book across the board.
Another reason is because it’s flexible, agile and open. We have a willingness to challenge each other; it’s not me handing down decisions. We are the principals; our job coaches are the teachers, and it’s our job to make sure they have the resources they need to be best set up to teach their students. We back up our people and get whatever it is they may need. That is our culture, is what it boils down to; the benefit comes from our size – and we just ooze passion for what we do.
How does your program organize the resources needed to make your work happen?  
One tremendous help has been the School of Social Work at Wayne State; it has a huge network. The professors and staff helped us compile a database of resources and people. If there wasn’t one out there that we already have a relationship with, it helps our job coaches find what our clients need. For example, with Child Protective Services -- we didn’t know what to do and they helped us get in touch with a caseworker. So far we haven’t been unable to serve someone. 
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  • Pay It Forward Initiative
    The Pay It Forward Initiative strives to provide transformational opportunity to structurally unemployed young adults in Detroit through providing employment, education, and empowerment! 


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