Visions For Change aims to fight poverty at its roots

A big piece of the plan to re-vitalize Central New York’s economy is to fight poverty at its roots.

NewsChannel 9’s Dan Cummings takes a look at a Syracuse success story, a program called “Visions For Change,” that’s helping those who need a job, find one.

Ishanna McDonnell used to be on public assistance—now, she’s an administrator for the Housing Visions Agency.

“I thought this was just another program like, ‘ok, I have to come here to keep my benefits. This is what they say you have to do so if I don’t come to this program, then I won’t have my benefits,’” McDonnell said.

Visions For Change takes people where they are, usually on welfare, out of work and out of hope.

Step one is a workshop where they learn a whole new way of looking at their life.  The textbook is “Choosing To Thrive”—  and that’s exactly what they do.

“They taught me how to open my life back up, because I didn’t talk very much and was always kind of on the shy side,” said Freddie Richardson, a participant in the program.

“It gave me spunk.  I was on the down low because of my work situation and I was starting to just forget myself, losing myself,” Richardson continued.

Rhonda O’Connor, the director of community engagement for Visions For Change said those who participate in the program form a new family, which is why classes are typically small, to cater to the peer-to-peer environment

McDonnell, a single mother of four, says the workshop and the coaching inspired her to ask questions of herself.

“What was it I wanted to do when I was a kid?  What was my dream when I was a kid?  They help you get all that back, so you can start moving toward what it is you want to do in life,” McDonnell said.

Richardson, at age 55 and with only a high school diploma, wants to do more with his life.   The job search and computer skills he’s learning here are big, but bigger still are the people he’s connecting with at Visions For Change.

“It’s not just about a job.  They help you to open yourself up.  They pick you up.  It’s a blessing, it’s joyful,” Richardson said.

The success of this 3-year-old program is in the numbers:

“Probably about 260 have graduated so far, and 70 percent of them have found jobs.  And 85 percent have retained their employment.  So that’s what we shoot for,” O’Connor said.

“They just feel like, they are so beat down from all the systems that are holding them back.  And they get a job and this new person just flowers right in front of you.  It’s very rewarding to go home and say they’re gonna make it.  They’re gonna make it,” O’Connor said.

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