The problem faced by the Crawford family is widespread throughout the region. The Grand Traverse Bay area has about 13,294 individuals living in poverty, representing eight percent of the population, according to data from the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments.
Enter Teamwork Northwest (TWNW), a poverty reduction program dedicated to helping employees retain their jobs, provided through Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, Michigan WORKS, and The Department of Human Services. The organization focuses on the working poor families whose primary income is less than $25,000 a year. Crystal Mountain Resort is the largest participating business in the program with 55 employees.
Teamwork Northwest put me in touch with a discounted healthcare provider, which gave us considerable savings every month. We were able to use those funds for other things like glasses and braces, Crawford said.
TWNW acts as a middleman providing employees with an avenue to programs funded by the state of Michigan and other charitable agencies in the Grand Traverse Area.
Crystal Mountain provides a co-pay employee health insurance plan, but for Crawford and her family of five, it was too expensive.
Also with the help of TWNW, Crawford was able to earn a General Education Diploma (GED). It was always something that I put off and never took the time to do, she said. With some encouragement and help it was a push in the right direction.
Deb Nale and Nancy VanPeeren are the Teamwork Northwest representatives in Benzie County. Two days a week they visit Crystal Mountain, meeting with each employee who wishes to participate in the program.
We handle the issues that a human resource department cant legally handle, Nale said. They have dealt with everything from healthcare to domestic violence,
Nale and VanPeeren have sought mundane things for their clients such as $10 gas cards. They have also sought auto repair assistance amounting to more than $1,000.
We arent just shoveling money at them (Crystal Mountain employees); we help to find the resources they need to overcome their situations, Nale said. Folks are willing to help themselves if they are shown how to access the resources that are provided for them.
We dont give them the answers; we focus on supporting the participants and helping them find their own solutions to their own problems, VanPeeren said.
Nale spoke of another clent who makes about $15 an hour and lives by himself. Nale said he doesnt exactly fit the working poor profile, but he has a substance abuse problem.
We are getting Michigan Rehabilitative Services, and coordinating with Catholic Human Services to patch together a substance abuse program so he can manage his own treatment, Nale said. For some, we are their support system and, hopefully, we help them achieve happier healthier
TWNW runs lifestyle improvement workshops that are available to all Crystal Mountain employees. The workshops include everything from money management to computer skills and child care services.
Most of the participants that enter into the TWNW program have an immediate crisis that needs to be solved quickly, Nale said.
Once we take care of that immediate crisis, the participants are able to sit back and see where they are and where they want to go, Nale said.
Losing employees to lifestyle problems can be costly to local businesses.
Employers tend to overlook the cost of turnover. They think that its just something they have to deal with, which is a common misconception, said Elaine Wood, deputy director of Northwest Michigan Council of Governments.
Employees arent always comfortable talking to their employers about these types of issues or it just doesnt occur to them.
The minimum cost to a business for employee turnover is 30 percent of the employees wage, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Turnover is the transition from hiring and firing of employees.
Schools and businesses operate under middle-class norms and if you havent grown-up with that its difficult to fully understand the business environment, Wood said.
Costs of excessive turnover are passed along to the customer, and prevent a business from growing and creating more jobs, she added.
TWNW tries to alleviate these problems by working with employees and searching for the correct resources to help them. Its much more beneficial for the employer to create a lasting relationship with its employees, Wood said.
For someone who is living in poverty its difficult for them to plan for the future. We try to teach them that, Wood said. Its not hard finding jobs for people, but its difficult keeping the impoverished in those jobs.