Tenn. has a $700M stash meant for poor families; the state will spend some of it on job training 

The University of Memphis' GROWWTH pilot program will support Tennessee's effort to help its low-income residents.

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The University of Memphis will support the state of Tennessee’s effort to help its low-income populace by providing approximately 2,500 West Tennessee families with workforce training programs and wraparound services over the next three years, according to The Commercial Appeal

The pilot program for GROWWTH — “Growing Relational and Occupational Wealth in West Tennessee Households” — will be funded by a $25 million grant from unused funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The state reportedly has more than $730 million that has been in its coffers since early in the coronavirus pandemic.

U of M President Bill Hardgrave called its GROWWTH project “a testament to the ability of departments across our University and partners in our region to work together and create upward economic opportunities for West Tennessee families.” (Photo: Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal/USA TODAY NETWORK)

U of M President Bill Hardgrave called the college’s GROWWTH project “a testament to the ability of departments across our University and partners in our region to work together and create upward economic opportunities for West Tennessee families.”

University of Memphis is the only college to receive one of the seven $25 million grants announced last week by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and its Department of Human Services. 

Recipients of TANF across each county in West Tennessee — 451 people in total — were interviewed by researchers, and information gleaned from those conversations served as the basis of the U of M program.

“There’s such a myth out there that people just … don’t want to [work]. That they want to stay on benefits,” said U of M’s Richard Irwin, dean of U of M Global and academic innovation, who helms GROWWTH. “I was pleasantly surprised to hear people indicate that they want to work … Now, we also then found out that there are barriers to that.”

The project will focus on “the self, the family and the child,” Irwin said, providing West Tennesseeans in need with job training and upskilling while mitigating resource challenges impacting low-income residents, like transportation and care for children, reports The Commercial Appeal.

GROWWTH’S partner organizations include Abyssinian Baptist Church, American Job Centers, Economic Opportunities, MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope), Stand for Children, Whole Child Strategies, Inc., The Organizing Expert, and Community Lift.

Participants will be recruited through canvassing of area families, who will be assessed to determine what services they need. The state university will create a curriculum that will include three weeks of workforce readiness training and a second component specific to skill training for each participant’s interests. 

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