ERF providing employment assistance in many ways

ERF providing employment assistance in many ways

Becky Hayward, Aspire student, left; Kathy Shields, ERFund committee member; Mary Smith, Aspire student; Carmina Galguera, former Aspire student; and Lee Peart, Westminster Presbyterian Church and ERFund committee member, team up to make soup for Westminster Church’s Annual Soup Sale, which benefits the Employment Resource Fund.


The Employment Resource Fund works behind the scene to help goal-oriented Wayne County adults get jobs, get better jobs or keep their current jobs.

It does this by providing grants to local nonprofits with employment programs that work with hard-working adults to become valued employees. The flip side of this effort benefits local employers by providing a more skilled workforce in Wayne County. By supporting the work of the Employment Resource Fund to build a thriving workforce in Wayne County, over time local dependency on costly social services will be reduced.

The story began 10 years ago with the first grant award to Aspire (formerly ABLE) to help adults who didn’t finish high school get their GED, a high school diploma equivalency. Since the grant was awarded in 2010, more than 100 Wayne County adults received scholarships to pay for their GED testing.

Since that first grant award, eight other grants have been awarded to seven nonprofit schools and agencies in our county to help in other ways:

Aspire and Adult Education at the Wayne County Career Center provide students with gas vouchers when needed to get to class so they can complete their training; Wayne College provides emergency book loans to incoming students; Wayne County Public Library helps serious job seekers with a more professional image by providing resumes and other job-search paperwork; and the Counseling Center, Anazao, Adult Education and Community Action’s Getting Ahead program have funds they use for any job-search-related need, like steel-toed boots, scrubs, car repairs, certifications, work clothes, transportation and more.

The most recent ERFund grant was awarded to United Way in July 2019, and it has a different, interesting twist. Wayne County adults working with or for any of United Way’s 23 partner agencies can receive financial help with job-related needs. An employee of one of their partners needed car repairs to get to work. ERFund money was used to pay for the repairs, and the employee stayed gainfully employed.

Because the ERFund is a locally funded and operated work and education fund, it has the flexibility to meet job-related needs. All the money in the fund was raised or donated in our community. Those benefiting from the fund are asked to “pay it forward” in some way.

As an example, members of Westminster Presbyterian Church every winter for the past 10 years have made and sold their famous “Hearty Italian Soup” to raise money for the ERFund. They make the soup with the help of the Aspire’s GED and ESOL (English as a Second Language) students in the well-equipped kitchen of Central Christian Church. This team of church members, students and supporters has raised over $9,000 for ERFund initiatives like the scholarships for GED testing.

The ERFund is like a community savings account. It is an affiliate of the Wayne County Community Foundation, which is responsible for investing money donated to the fund. As it grows, there is more money to invest in new initiatives that help goal-oriented adults get jobs, get better jobs or keep their current jobs.

Any Wayne County nonprofit organization with an employment program can apply for a grant to fund a new initiative. The ERFund steering committee is accepting grant applications now. Applications are available through the website at

Community support is critical to the work of the Employment Resource Fund and can be provided in different ways. Individuals or businesses can donate directly to the Employment Resource Fund at the Wayne County Community Foundation by going to the website at or sending a check to Employment Resource Fund, Wayne County Community Foundation, 517 N. Market St., Wooster, OH 44691.

Individuals also can buy soup from Westminster Presbyterian Church, 353 E. Pine St., Wooster, during office hours Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. Call Gracie in advance at 330-262-2398. The suggested donation is $8 per quart. The office will close on Dec. 24 for the holidays and re-open Jan. 2.

Finally, churches and other local service organizations can “Adopt an Initiative” like Westminster adopted Aspire’s GED and ESOL programs. The church or service organization and their adopted initiative work together to create a fundraiser for the ERFund.

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