Did You Even Know? It’s a Crisis!!

I left that day and thought, “my GOD.  This cannot be over.  We are on the brink of so much greatness. This cannot be the end of my story here.” Until it was.

wordsmithstudios.org

Friends, I have been struggling with  this blog post!  I try to post something once a week.  I would love to do it more, but I just can’t pump stuff out that often and still maintain the rest of my life, which believe it or not, is incredibly busy for someone who is technically not working a full-time job.

Corey calls it the Type A personality in me.  “Denise, you have already gotten yourself into Type A mode again.  You’ve stressed yourself all out and this time, you’ve done it TO YOURSELF.”

True story.

Be that as it may, I have been working extra long on this post.  When I made Corey read it the first time, it was 2500+ words.  Most of my  posts are around 1000-1,500 and many out there are less.  When he finished reading he looked like I had smacked him around a little.  His eyes were all glassy and he was blinking a lot.

“Wow,” he said.  “I might need a little time to absorb this before I can comment on it.  I’m a little overwhelmed.”

Welllll…  Major changes and here we are.  I’ll get right to the point.

Maine, what is happening to us?  Here are some facts about Maine I bet many of you didn’t even know.  If you were aware already, you probably didn’t think much about it.  I know, I am making some assumptions, but frankly, I wouldn’t have thought much about it if I hadn’t been in workforce development for the last 15 years.

The Numbers

 Maine is in crisis.    We are the oldest state in the nation and more people are dying than being born.  So many people are dying that the birth rate can’t keep up with the death rate.  The baby boomers  are nearing retirement age, so we have more older workers in the workforce. As the baby boomers retire, employers can’t find  employees to fill their jobs.  We have MANY great colleges and universities in our state, but those graduates are leaving the state upon graduation.   They are heading out of Maine to pursue what they think are better jobs for better pay.

And they might be right.

Why would new businesses come to Maine without employees to fill their jobs?  Why would a business STAY in Maine without employees to hire?

We need to talk about it because Maine is such a great place to live and raise  a family. I am not alone when I say I believe in our communities and I care about our state.  There is unlimited potential we have yet to tap, potential living within the nooks and crannies of our mountains, along our rivers,  in the valleys, via the highways and byways that make up this state.

Here’s part of the problem and what prompted this post.  The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Grant.  It is a $9 million, federal, job training grant.

WIOA focuses on disadvantaged populations and dislocated workers seeking education, training, or employment.  It can fill in a lot of gaps for people that financial aid or other grants can’t always provide.  There are support services for childcare or transportation.  It pays for books.  It can also pay for adult ed courses like C.N.A or welding.  Classes that can help those who need a boost or aren’t ready to commit to college.  WIOA is the funding that pays for re-training for  dislocated workers; many of the laid off paper mill workers benefited from WIOA training funds.

There is a lot to the grant.   I don’t need to bog you down here (remember 2,500 words? ) If you want to learn more, you can google it.  I will also put a link at the bottom of this post.

I worked under the youth component of WIOA and focused on youth ages 16-24.  Anyone who knows me knows I loved my job, my team, those with whom I worked.  I did damn good work and was recognized for the various contributions I made locally, regionally, and even nationally.

Our organization did great work under that grant.   Everyone I worked with LOVED what they did.  They worked incredibly hard to serve a challenging population and busted ass to do it.

The problems arose when Governor LePage wanted control of that grant, then refused to disburse the funds.  It is why many people who worked under WIOA were laid off, both at my organization and throughout the state.  LePage was later ordered to release the funding and the service providers are now in the process of rebuilding their programs.

My initial draft of this post tried to explain the account in detail; it’s what made it so long.  The moral of the story is Governor LePage has no right to control the WIOA funding because it is a federal grant.  He was ordered to disperse the funds because holding them was illegal.

Why is WIOA and Maine’s employment crisis linked?

The goals of the WIOA grant line up quite nicely with the needs of our state: Work with employers to understand the job market.  Get people trained or get them  credentials that employers say they need. Get people hired.   Make sure they are hired at a livable wage.  Make sure they stay working.

Our  job was to work with individuals, assess their needs, remove their barriers, and  find them viable employment.

ULTIMATELY: Move disadvantaged populations off of state systems.  You know, like welfare?

Anyway,  last Monday I read in the newspaper that Governor LePage is  targeting WIOA funding again.

I get so fired up every time I think about it…About the time  we spent prior to being laid off, working to PROVE our worth to someone who, as our “leader,” should already know what we, as WIOA providers, were doing to work with employers, industry, and individuals.  In some cases, we were doing ground-breaking work.

Yet, he didn’t care.  Instead,  we wasted capacity to run reports and provide the same data over and over.  Internally, we analyzed data, asked questions, reviewed information, double checked files.

I remember our organization hosted this really great economic development conference with fabulous national speakers and great breakout sessions.  It was really well attended and just so freakin’ awesome!  I left that day and thought, “my GOD.  This cannot be over.  We are on the brink of so much greatness. This cannot be the end of my story here.”

Until it was.

Shame on you, Governor LePage

We just can’t lose sight of the most important aspect of our state: the people.  We can’t lose sight of what has made Maine  so great.

wordsmithstudios.org
Is it really?

Having worked with youth for so many years, I am also empowered by the amazing voices young people have raised over the issue of gun violence in the schools.  The march in D.C. and across the U.S should be a wake up call and a reminder that

OUR YOUTH ARE OUR FUTURE.

We cannot afford to let one single youth slip through the cracks of the system.  WIOA is a bridge and a lifeboat for many of those youth.

We need to do everything we can to empower  individuals to develop educational awareness, to learn to navigate systems, and to engage in their communities to become leaders and champions of their own lives and their own futures.

We need to train Mainers.  We need to re-train them.  We need to educate them.  We need to EMPLOY them and keep them employed.  We need to keep them in Maine.  We need to bring people TO Maine to stay.

We need to be helping people reach their potential.  We need to do the right thing.   Perhaps doing the right thing is holding our leaders accountable.  Perhaps it is holding our friends accountable.  Maybe it is listening to our subordinates.  Listening to our co-workers.   Maybe it is just working to keep our kids in Maine.  Or maybe it is organizing a million person march across the state or across the nation.  I don’t know what your right thing is…  But we all need to figure out how to make our contribution because our state, and so many other things,  is spiraling.  And that might sound a little melodramatic, but let it be so.

It is my story after all.

……………………………………………………………………………………….

For  statistics and percentages that back up my facts or for more info about  state, visit these websites:

www.maine.gov/labor/cwri       www.northeasternwdb.org

For the articles I refer to about Governor LePage and the job training funds, please go to:    bangordailynews.com

For information about WIOA, check out:http://www.doleta.gov/wioa/

We’ll need an arsenal if there is a zombie apocalypse.

America, gun violence is a thing.  Having too many guns IS A THING.  And America is known for it. Guns cannot be more important than human beings. Life is about relationships. Let’s start creating some.

Dear America,

I don’t know what’s happened to you. I watch the news and I see chaos.  I watch CNN and see clips of protests—protests I am used to watching happen in other countries—I read my Facebook feed and read friendships and families divided.  People are being deported, politicians can’t do their jobs, women are outing their harassers after (sometimes) YEARS of inexcusable behavior.  And our kids are afraid to go to school because they might get shot down as they learn their ABC’s or algebra.

Admittedly, America looks and feels a lot messier than we want it to, but I am thankful we still live in a free country.  It is nice to know that unless I am on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, just broke out of jail,  am criminally connected to the mafia or in some other gang related occupation, it’s unlikely I will ever NEED an assault rifle of any kind.

My son and I talk about that sometimes—how lucky we are.  We could have been born in a country at war like Afghanistan or Syria.  We could have been born into a country where we have NO rights like North Korea or even somewhere in Latin America where people just get murdered all the time (Wikipedia has the stats if you want to fact check). Those are places we would need an assault rifle. Multiple assault rifles and an arsenal of guns in our basement or better yet in the coat closet by the front door.  If we even had a door.  That would be a luxury too probably.   In one of those countries, we would be fighting for our family’s survival every day.

Oh, and we would need an arsenal if there were a zombie apocalypse.  I’m sure that is an argument someone will make.  Fortunately, it is still general consensus that the zombie apocalypse is not real despite how awesome the tv show is.

I know what I have described is mostly just reasonable thought and lacks statistics, so here is a short video my husband found on Facebook.  He spends a lot of time there watching cat videos since he is getting tired of the crazy shit going on in the news.  I encourage everyone, whatever you believe, to watch it BEFORE you revert to your standard go-to opinion on the gun debate.

https://www.facebook.com/Vox/videos/841874856000118/

Finished? If you are, and I hope you really did watch,  because you saw that yeah America, gun violence is a thing.  Having too many guns IS A THING.  And America is known for it.

And before you revert back to that go-to argument, America, think about how you would feel if it were YOUR son, daughter, wife, husband, loved one who was a victim of the violence?  Would you still say guns don’t kill people?  Would you still say we don’t need to change our situation?  Would you REALLY?

What are we going to do?

Desensitization is also a thing.  I dare say I speak for many Americans when I say I feel like I/we have become a bit desensitized to violence or to situations that don’t effect me directly.

I don’t play video games by the way, so we can’t blame them.

I do tend to compartmentalize things.  Sometimes that is THE only way I can manage my emotions—I put them away in a box in my head and lock them up.  My kids are safe and happy.  My world is safe and happy.  So my strategy has been to look at the TV, feel bad…and move on…

Until a few days ago, I am not even sure I would have written about something like this. Something so controversial and emotional.  Writing  about something so raw rattles at the lock on my compartment.

Except that during the news coverage of the Florida school shooting, I saw the news clips of students talking to the news and they said things like, and I am paraphrasing, “We knew he was going to shoot up the school one day,”  and  “I wasn’t surprised when I found out it was him.”

And that BLEW THE LOCK OFF THE COMPARTMENT.  My eyes bugged out of my head.  I got mad and sad.  Mad at myself.  Mad at the media.  Mad at a system who puts guns into the hands of anyone who wants one.

Quote from Parkland School Shooting survivor, Emma Gonzales

Sad for a system who let a young man become so angry he resorted to violence to be seen…to be recognized…to be heard.

Mad at the culture who just keeps chanting that guns don’t kill people.

Except that there are too many lives lost and too many guns.

I mean, REALLY?  This is where we are now?  We have become so complacent about our fellow classmates, students, friends, humans, that this is where we are?

Can’t we all just SEE each other?  Can’t we just LISTEN to each other? Can’t we put aside the radical thoughts and look at what is best for everyone?  What is best for the vulnerable?  What will keep people safe?  (and we know it’s not more guns). 

From Author Tom Digby https://www.facebook.com/tomdigby3/posts/1445953932167458

The victims of these crimes must be heard and must be examples on which we base our future.  “I hear you” needs to be far more than a talking point on a list held on a piece of paper by our President.  We need action that creates change and change that saves lives.

I am not pointing fingers and I don’t have a solution.

But I know people aren’t evil.  We have created these situations and we need to start looking at ourselves to fix them.

Listen to the victims of the crimes.  Listen to the broken.

America, guns cannot be more important than human beings.

Life is about relationships.  Let’s start creating some.

Respectfully,  A dangerously optimistic citizen feeling dangerously close to giving up on America’s ability to do the right thing