News

4/23/2009 - Fair to offer one-stop recession aid

http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20090422/NEWS/904219929

By Steven Nalley Special to The Tuscaloosa News
Published: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 10:56 p.m.

Brenda Truelove sees the recession as a maze, and she wants to help lead Tuscaloosa out of it.

Truelove, team manager for the federal Workforce Investment Act at the Tuscaloosa Career Center, said people who have lost jobs or have need of social services during a recession often get lost and confused trying to get access to the resources they need.

'You might have two or three agencies doing some part of a service,' Truelove said. 'It can take time and effort just to figure out where you're going and what you're doing.'

Truelove hopes to change that with the CHEER UP Support Services Information Fair, which will be held at the Belk Activity Center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. About 40 agencies offering more than 30 services will gather at the fair, changing the path to support from a maze into a single point.

CHEER UP, which stands for Community Helping Everyone Endure Recession with United Purpose, is part of the United Way of West Alabama and 211 services. Tamika Alexander, director of 211 information and referral services at United Way, said specialists at the fair would counsel visitors on services ranging from prescription assistance to transportation to support groups.

'We want to be the place where they come to and get all the information they need to get back on their feet,' Alexander said. 'It'll be like a one-stop shop.'

Truelove said the fair had been in the works since the fall, when the growing recession drew concern from the Region III Workforce Development Council.

'It's taken us some time to get our agencies organized, but we think it's a good time,' Truelove said. 'People were thinking maybe it was going to get better before it did, and hopefully there's some bright futures ahead, but right now, this is the right time to do it.'

She said that while CHEER UP was created specifically to address people's needs stemming from the recession, it isn't unheard of for numerous local support services to gather in times of crisis. She said a previously established community service networking group allowed the agencies to respond to the recession together more easily.

'It's not uncommon for all of us to come together in times of need,' Truelove said. 'We call upon each other, like in the response [to Hurricane Katrina].'

Alexander said the fair will serve not only to simplify the support services process, but also to introduce it to those who are unfamiliar with it. She said in this recession, unemployment and other financial issues have struck people who have never had these problems before, and those newcomers need guidance.

'A lot of people who are facing these tough times are people who haven't asked about these services in the past,' Alexander said. 'A lot of them just don't know where to go.'

The fair is the first of its kind, and Truelove said it would probably also be the last. She said while no services would actually be rendered at the fair itself, it would allow visitors a chance to familiarize themselves with the services and then use 211 to access services after the fair.

'We're planning on it to become so ingrained in the community that people know it's all there and we don't have to do another,' Truelove said. 'As more people find out in the community, we've done our job.'

The fair will be a kickoff for people to get more assistance through the CHEER UP program at six different locations: the Tuscaloosa Career Center, the Tuscaloosa Public Library, Tuscaloosa's One Place, the Department of Human Resources, Maude Whatley Health Center and Shelton State Community College.

Bob McKinney, assistant director at Tuscaloosa's One Place, said the six satellite offices would open Monday. How long they continue will depend on the length of the recession.

'It's all staffed by people who either work for the agencies or are volunteers,' McKinney said. 'It might still be going years from now, depending on what the need is.'

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