Despite unemployment rates being highest in areas containing large concentrations of Black residents in Washington, D.C., an all-Black female class recently graduated from Pathway to Work, a local government program that gives Washingtonians the tools, education and confidence to seek gainful employment.

The AmeriHealth Caritas held its second commencement on Jan. 8 at the John A. Wilson building in Northwest D.C. The health organization instituted the workforce readiness initiative to combat health disparities among lower income populations. Lisa K. Fitzpatrick, a medical director for the Medicaid program in Washington, D.C. served as the event’s guest speaker.

Pathway to Work graduating cohort with AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia, Market President, Karen Dale (Standing second from left). Next to Dale is Councilmember David Grosso (I-At-large) and Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I- At-large), standing farthest from the right. (Photo by Micha Green)

“This is something that will help us get the people, who have, perhaps, fallen through the cracks, have not quite gotten where they want to be in their career, to give them another shot at it,” At-Large Councilmember David Grosso (I), chairman of Committee on Education, who also attended the commencement, told the AFRO.

AmeriHealth Caritas launched Pathway to Work in January of 2017. The program offers internships, mentorships, employment skills, financial literacy and job placement to high-school educated D.C. residents who are 18 and older. A majority of students in the program are parents and caregivers.

“The founding of this program goes back to my fundamental belief that equity is important, and in our city we have many people that are capable of being a part of the workforce, however they need additional support to do so,” Karen Dale, market president for AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia, told the AFRO. “I worry, particularly, about our families where it’s a mom and a kid and the mom is trying to figure out that pathway to stability. So in sourcing candidates for this program, we look at households where it’s multigenerational. It’s a mom or a dad with kids, and we offer them an unique type of internship.”

Pathway to Work offers both employment and life skills with its specialized educational format.  Through on-site training and partnerships with the YWCA,  interns are prepared for administrative tasks and hospitality positions.

“YWCA gives a certificate for the didactic component that they provide around the hospitality training,” Dale said. “We know that being unemployed is stressful. We know that children, who are in a household with economic stability have more opportunities to be successful.”

In addition to employment skills, the mentors and educators with Pathway to Work teach interns how to be a professional and a parent.

“To me the differentiator is that we give every intern a mentor, and we focus on life skills.  So, ‘How do you do a budget?  What do you do with that first paycheck?’ We focus on things like work-life balance, ‘How do you parent and go to work everyday? How do you do your schedule? How do you relieve stress?’ Those additional components, we believe, are incredibly instrumental in positioning someone for success,” Dale said.

According to Dale, several residents join the program in search of job stability.

“Some have done entry level security, fast food … and a couple had done some front desk support…  The challenge many of them had, is that those positions have been temporary assignments. Our success is defined by getting someone placed in a job that pays above minimum wage and that it’s a full-time, permanent position,” Dale said.

Since the graduation of last year’s cohort of 14 interns, seven, work in permanent positions for AmeriHealth Caritas, while others have gone on to working with affiliated health providers and centers.

“They are very loyal after you finish. I still talk to my mentors,” Pathway to Work alumni Kristen Goff told the graduates. Goff is now an AmeriHealth Care connector.