One day I was walking across the Potomac River Bridge that links Cumberland to Ridgeley.  The bridge seemed like a link to the city’s once thriving economy.  The imagery of the thriving railroad and rubber industries and the undying spirit of its people are still present in the atmosphere. However, Cumberland now ranks as one of the most impoverished metropolitan areas in the country with one of the lowest per capita incomes.

Today many in the city are ensnared in the tyranny of the moment.  The struggles of daily living in Cumberland are a sobering reality.  Each day someone is evicted from their apartment, someone falls into substance abuse and someone (often times a child) goes hungry.  Today, a new bridge – Bridges to Opportunity -- is being constructed to help stabilize careers and combat poverty in Cumberland and the surrounding area.

In October, Bridges to Opportunity reached out to area businesses and began piloting an Employee Resource Network (ERN).   The ERN is an innovative, employer-based model that pulls together a consortium of small to mid-size businesses to provide job retention services, work supports, and training opportunities for lower wage employees. The ERN’s overarching goal is to reduce employee turnover by connecting employees and public partners to improve job retention for workforce development.    The benefits to our community are threefold: employers retain a more engaged and skilled workforce, public agencies and nonprofits see better program outcomes that advance economic independence and community colleges add students and build closer ties to area businesses.

When employees are in the despotism of daily situations, their lives revolve around making connections for relief.  The ERN’s Resource Coordinator has been able to assist one local business’s associates by establishing connections to HRDC, Social Services, the Sheriff’s office, AHEC, and UCBCares. With problems resolved employees became more productive.  Employees stabilize their wellbeing across the board reducing turnover and increasing profit margins. When businesses come together in the Employer Resource Network, a winning equation for staff, businesses and the community is created. 

Bridges to Opportunity is looking for two more businesses to participate in the Employer Resource Network pilot at no cost.  If your business hires workers in the pay range of $8.75 - $12.00 per hour, call Pam Jan or Nancy Forlifer at (240) 964-8422.  Let’s come together to continue building the bridge to a new future for Allegany County!

Justin Searls
Ridgeley, WV