Imagine being in your mid-40s and getting laid off from the job you’ve held for more than a decade. Talk about a moment of panic.
That’s the exact situation that Tracie Roberts faced in 2009 when she lost her job after 13 years of being a Target employee. With years of experience but without a college degree, Roberts — like many victims of the Great Recession — was stuck.
This story is all too familiar across the country, where unemployment continues to grip cities. But a local Minneapolis nonprofit has been proving for decades that taking the time to empower underserved members of the community (like Roberts) has its merits.
Twin Cities RISE! (TCR) is a job skills training program, founded in 1993, aimed at helping Minneapolis low-income residents. While it specifically targets men of color, applicants are both male and female and over the past few years, about a one-quarter of participants have been white, according to the Atlantic CityLab. Through a combination of training, mentoring, internship opportunities, and teaching courses focused on personal empowerment, the organization aims to help the unemployed find jobs that earn a living wage.
The program costs $5,000 annually per participant and can take more than seven months to complete. An applicant must have earned less than $20,000 in the past year and may not hold a four-year degree from a United States college. The requirements may sound rigid — but the program has proven successful.
Part of that success stems from TCR’s investment in each participant. The nonprofit teaches personal empowerment training — from improving self-esteem to developing relationship skills — and reinforces the concept throughout its entire program.

“It’s all about the thought process. It’s all about perception. How we think or feel,” said TCR instructor Quinten Osgood. “It’s about helping you look inside yourself for solutions.”

The concept has worked. Former CEO Art Berman and independent economists from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve and the state government estimate for every $1 invested in its program by the state, they reduce more than $7 to Minnesota taxpayers from increased state tax receipts, reduced state subsidies, and reduced recidivism among graduates.

Most of TCR’s funding is donated, but the organization also benefited from a state performance-based contract that earned them money every time a participant became employed and were still employed a year later.

Getting through the program is no small feat. About 400 students enroll each year, focusing on either office support, administrative-focused jobs, or operations like machine lifting. After taking courses on everything from resume writing and workplace communications to goal-setting and public speaking, students then apply for jobs. TCR tries to place participants in jobs that pay at least $20,000 a year with benefits, but that doesn’t always work out.

A student officially “graduates” after holding a job for more than a year. The nonprofit boasts that 81 percent of its graduates remain in their job in the first year and 70 percent remain in the second year. For the state of Minnesota, that’s a pretty effective jobs growth initiative.

Personal coaches also advise participants while they’re in the program and for the first two years after getting hired.  As CityLab points out, the transition from no job to one that pays $20,000 annually can be a lot of responsibility. TCR’s coaches and long-term empowerment method may take some time, but have proven to be a worthy investment.

Five years later, Roberts now works for the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis, taking summer classes at a community college for credit to eventually earn her bachelor’s degree in business management.

“I thought it would be a great free training program, I’d get my computer skills up. But it turned out to be so much more than that. It really did,” Roberts said.

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