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Unique help for the unemployed

“Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

That’s an old adage that professionals at the Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program in Detroit Lakes are embracing as many of them are changing the way they do business.

People walk into the Work Force Center or Rural Minnesota CEP building to look for a variety of services, including help finding a job or welfare.

 But now there are several RMCEP workers who have been freshly trained to give those people much more than that.

Dawn Finn is an employment counselor and certified family development specialist for RMCEP, which essentially means she works with people who are on welfare.

But Finn, like many in her field of work, has seen a lot of money being thrown at problem that she believes can be helped if only the professionals working with the clients could just delve deeper.

So they are.

Finn is taking the lead in training her co-workers in a program called the Family Development Credential.

“It’s really more of an approach,” said Finn, who is now trained to certify others in the program that is designed to take service work like hers and incorporate social work ideals.

“When MNCEP came to be, it was designed to get people back to work,” said Finn, “but when people come to us, they oftentimes come to us with more barriers than most people.”

Finn says welfare dependence becomes a multi-generational issue, as children raised in a family that receive public assistance for consecutive years may not have the tools or the understanding of their own potential to support themselves.

Essentially, they grew up on welfare, that’s what they know.

But now, about half of the staff in the Detroit Lakes RMCEP office have been trained and certified to deal with their clients through a client empowerment approach that could change the way welfare recipients see themselves.

“The goal for both sides is to assist families in becoming self-sufficient,” said Finn, who says instead of professionals telling the clients what they should do, this approach has clients in the driver’s seat.

“The goal is to try to figure out … what makes you tick? What do you want for your future? Where do you want to go? And then I partner with them to figure out how to help them get there,” said Finn, who says working with people on a more personal level validates them and encourages them to find their potential.

“I’m not saying we talk to them about who they’re dating or anything, but it is building a real relationship with them,” said Finn, who says people who grow up in poverty often come with extra barriers and don’t always see the steps that lead them to where they want to go.

And she says, when professionals dig deeper with these clients, they soon find out that just finding any old job isn’t truly going to help them — helping them figure out how to get to their job that will fulfill them and make them feel worthy is what it’s all about.

“We break it down in 30-day, 90-day goals,” said Finn, who says she’s seen the program work wonders in about 70 percent of her clients.

Through this newer, social work-type approach, the professionals at RMNCEP also then reach out to other community entities that can help that client down their own path.

“That’s why I think it would be great to get more people in from other places certified in this as well — the crisis center, Muhube, Head Start, county social services … there are so many that can benefit from this program,” said Finn, who has already trained about half of the staff at RMNCEP.

The 90-hour course ends with an exam and if passed, a certification that career professionals can carry with them forever.

“I really like this because it’s where the rubber meets the road,” said Terry Janes, director of operations for RMNCEP, “It’s where customer and staff are face to face and they both want the same outcome and they’re both working together on how to get there.”

Janes says the staff members in Detroit Lakes that have been certified in this training have a renewed excitement about their jobs.

“And part of that has to do with attitude changes in the staff,” said Janes, “it makes them happier to do the work when they’re using this approach because it’s such a supportive approach.”

This softer, more personal way of doing business is getting a lot of support from a staff of government workers who are used to having to work within more directive programs and demanding criteria.

“It’s a matter of remembering what you’re really about in doing any kind of service work,” said Janes.

For more information on the Family Development Credential or how to get certified, email Dawn Finn at