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New partnership seeks to employ low-income college students at county DHS offices

A partnership between DHS and ADHE seeks to give part-time job opportunities at county DHS offices, to low-income parents headed back to college being assisted by the state's Career Pathways initiative. (Photo: KATV)

A new partnership between the Department of Human Services and Arkansas's Department of Higher Education is looking to place low-income parents headed back to school in part-time jobs at DHS county offices, while students work on their degree.

Kristal Brooks didn't decide to go back to school until she was nearly 40. Brooks traded in her job at a call center for a part-time job stocking book shelves and working the information desk at the public library in downtown Little Rock - all while she takes classes at Pulaski Technical College to complete her major in English.

The decision to head back to school for Brooks was to be able to find a career-path that gave her a more stable work-life and steadier pay, allowing her to spend more time with and take care of her three daughters.

"You want to be there to help with the homework or bath time - dinner, making sure they get a good meal rather than something quick or fast food," said Brooks.

Being a low-income single parent, Brooks qualified for assistance from ADHE's Career Pathways initiative which provides career counseling, tutoring, as well as financial assistance to parents on government assistance or making an income less than 250% below the poverty line, looking to head back to college.

Career Pathways has provided assistance to more than 30,000 low-income parents at 25 community colleges across Arkansas. Now the program is teaming up with DHS to provide students like Brooks with more stable hours and resume building experience, while doing part-time entry-level work at DHS's 75 county offices across the state.

"These students, they're going to school, they have kids and they really need some regular hours and kind of a sense of normalcy - rather than having to work at night or on the weekends," said Amy Webb, director of communications for the Department of Human Services.

The partnership has a two-fold purpose, not just to provide students with more family friendly work hours, but also to help fill often inadequately staffed clerical positions that DHS needs to hire to better serve its clients.

Brooks said having once relied on DHS assistance, as do many of the students partnered with Career Pathways, she believes the partnership with DHS makes sense.

"If you've been there you know what the person who's coming in for help is going through," said Brooks. "So you're more empathetic to what they're going through."

In a press release from DHS, Governor Asa Hutchinson said about the program:

"I am pleased that the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and the Department of Human Services are working together to provide employment opportunities for the state's non-traditional students. The opportunity to gain real-world job experience while taking community college courses will put our students in a better position to compete in today's competitive job market. I look forward to seeing the impact Career Pathways will have in strengthening the state's workforce and providing Arkansans with tools they need to climb the economic ladder."

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