Sunday, August 27, 2017
Interview by: Jamilah Grizzle
July 18, 2017
Cynthia Andrews is the Executive Director of Oberlin Community Services, where she has worked for the past three years. Prior to joining OCS, she served on their board, as well as for several other non-profit boards. She has lived in Oberlin for over a decade.
Q: How would you describe what you do to someone outside of Oberlin?
A: So I think the thing that I would say is, Oberlin Community Services is a for-purpose organization that has been around for 60+ years. At the center of everything we do is food. We want to make sure the community is healthy, that the community has access to food, and that we take advantage of existing food programs. So, if Second harvest has a program, we want to make sure that we are able to offer it locally. If that means food for kids in the classroom through a backpack program, we want to do that. If that means feeding kids lunch in the summertime, we want to do that. And lastly, if that means that our seniors have plenty of food, we want to do that. So, anytime theres a program being offered locally, regionally, or nationally, Id like to think we would raise our hand and say Hey, is that something that we can bring forward to this community?
"Food is at the center of everything we do. We want to make sure the community is healthy, has access to food, and takes advantage of existing food programs."
Q: What positive impacts do you see Oberlin Community Services (OCS) having on your life and on your community?
A: As I suggested in the beginning, when youve done something for 60 years, you become a trusted member of the community. Community is the center word of the work we do. Id say the most positive impact of lately is that 68% of our clients are single moms, so how can we provide other resources to them? So, weve started a jobs training program called Women in Sustainable Employment. And that program really has enabled moms to support their families in a very different way. So, we have moms who had been driving and working 3rd shifts to now having jobs locally here in Oberlin. We have other moms who were working in manufacturing and earning $10/hr, now working in jobs that are earning $29/hr and being better able to take care of themselves and their kids.
For me, in particular, as I said, I had served on 4 non-profit boards when I came to this position at OCS. Id like to see myself as empowering, making sure that resources are made available to those most in need. I take personal satisfaction, at the end of each day, knowing that weve impacted the lives at least of an individual and hopefully his or her family as well.
"Wed like to see ourselves as empowering, making sure that resources are made available to those most in need."
"We take satisfaction knowing we've impacted the life of an individual and their families."
Q: What type of culture does OCS seek to cultivate within the community it supports?
A: So, I think the culture I would have to say is one of equity, fairness, and access. If there is a program or an offering over here in Lorain, Elyria or in the Southern part of the county, how do we make sure that all of our community members have access to that? The example I would give is that the GED had been a volunteer program here on Thursday nights. Yet, Lorain County Community College was offering a program in Elyria and Lorain. Well, if you've learned anything about Oberlin, you know that transportation is a challenge. But as a result we were able to reach out to Lorain County Community College, reach out to Lorain County JVS. Now we offer that program here, Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, and people can come here and get their GED. The other thing about the GED is that it has evolved, there are now 5 or 6 different ways to get your GED. How do you then have someone on your staff who understands all of that. So as a client comes in they are able to say Heres the credits I am missing and heres what Id like to do, where do I best fit into that equation? The other example is that as you can imagine, the GED only says its a high school equivalency program. But our employers today are more interested in what skills do I have from an employment standpoint. So weve partnered with the Ohio Means Jobs and the vocational school to offer something called the National Career Readiness Certificate. Now, rather than have a mom come in and say Ive applied to 100 jobs and havent heard from anyone. What if she applied to those 10 jobs that most meet her skill set and targets on those 10 to hopefully get 2 or 3 interviews and maybe a job from that. I find that to be very rewarding both from our staff standpoint and from our clients.
Q: If OCS could expand, what services would it look into providing?
A: I think any kind of expansion it really needs to continue to be in the area of advocacy. How can we continue to advocate for clients, In particular, our clients that are interested in moving off of any kind of social service programs. Today there isnt a natural way to say I no longer need this but want to continue to support my family. How can we continue to look at systems on both the statewide and federal level so that the mom who wants to start a business can continue to come get food, get some rent, some housing assistance; and yet, start her business without jeopardizing those other forms of payment because she still needs to support her family or the 2 children she has in the household. So, as we continue to advocate for our clients, how can we continue to learn more about those programs and how to create a step so that the mom can start her business, do the things that she wants to do, but also be mindful of the needs of her children.
"The thing that I most like about Oberlin is that it really is a true community."
Q: What do you love about Oberlin?
A: The thing that I most like about Oberlin is that it really is a true community. We interviewed one of our clients yesterday and I think the thing she kept saying is, You really believed in me. That wasnt just you, as in OCS an organization, but you, Oberlin Community and bringing in these many different resources that are available. Our clients cant necessarily go to them. So, how do we bring those here? It is a very caring and giving community, but, again, one rich in resources but how do we bring them together in support of those clients.
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