At a festive, grilled chicken luncheon Monday at the Holy Family Senior Center, participants in a series of jobs and training programs met to celebrate their success, and to signal the end of this infusion of this largely federally-assisted funding.
“We are here today to acknowledge, show our appreciation and celebrate the assistance that the various public and private entities rendered Franklin County during what could have escalated into the worst economic disaster in local history,” said Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson. “Given local economic conditions at the time, followed by the collapse of the oyster industry, your swift response averted a fiscal crisis beyond measure throughout the Franklin County community.”
Joe Taylor, director of Franklin’s Promise Coalition, Inc., emceed the event, which featured remarks from a series of participants in an array of programs, anchored by a multi-million dollar national emergency grant that has funded the ongoing shelling program as well as a variety of other training programs.
“Although this occasion certainly warrants such a celebration, it is also a bittersweet moment, as it signals the end of the temporary jobs program put into place to help stabilize the local economy, which also lifted spirits and renewed hope throughout the Franklin County community,” said Johnson. “However, left to linger in its path and perhaps most importantly and more lasting are the partnerships, collaborations and friendships established along the way by and between your agencies.
“Through your efforts, support and financial contributions - workers have been retrained and placed into permanent job situations and adults long out of high school have fulfilled their dreams of obtaining a high school diploma,” said the mayor.
Johnson thanked the five main pillars of what has become known as “Franklin Works,” the largest of which is the Gulf Coast Workforce Board (GCWB), which has administered the federal dollars.
“This is so humbling for us to be thanked by so many people,” said Kim Bodine, director of GCWB. “It has been an awesome project for us. I do believe this is just the beginning.”
Jennifer German, GCWB’s deputy director, detailed GCWB’s success following the luncheon. She said 215 oystermen have been involved in the $2.7 million shelling program, which has been extended to run through July and August. Another 10 people worked for the county under this grant program, which was instituted in the wake of Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012.
“There’s a lot that happened in the last year, a lot of opportunities we have never had before,” said Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association. “This is all about the community. I look forward to what’s going to happen in the future.”
German said other monies to help dislocated workers over multiple years and multiple counties, has affected 414 participants, the largest number of whom have been involved in GED prep courses through the county literacy program.
She said 126 people have been enrolled in the GED courses, and that about half so far received their high school diplomas.
She said 42 individuals took part in classroom training at the Gulf Franklin Center in Port St. Joe, including a dozen who have been trained as corrections officers and 25 in welding.
Shawn Shattuck spoke to the luncheon about his four months of welding training, in which finished in the top three in his class and has gone on to start his own business.
Also speaking as participants in job training programs were Sandra Allen, as well as Cheryl Ray, who has been involved with the Bridges to Circles program, sponsored by Catholic Charities.
Brunie Emmanuel spoke on behalf of the Bridges to Circles program he helped bring to the county. He said the program over the last two years has brought millions of dollars to help people affected by the oil spill, with two dozen successful projects up and down the Gulf Coast.
“It’s one of the highlights of my career,” he said. “I see people who have changed their lives because of this. Your neighbors and kinfolk are going to have a different life. I’m honored to be a part of it.”
German said 62 individuals have benefited from GCWB training in how to better their work experience by learning appropriate work behaviors, and 17 have been able to exit GCWB services for a job.
The mayor also thanked Progress/Duke Energy for their direct assistance to people who had trouble paying their electric bills. Company representative Bobby Pickels said as a result of the program, the rates of disconnect in the county have either stayed the same or decreased.
Johnson also expressed his thanks to Trinity Episcopal Church and the Capital Area Community Action Agency for their help. “And to countless others who show of support and compassion toward the wellbeing of their fellow man have been duly noted throughout Franklin County, within the city of Apalachicola and before the gracious throne of Almighty God,” he said.
Sister Jeanne, who is on the board of Franklin’s Promise, offered the invocation, and Pastor Horace Solomon offered the blessing over the meal. Franklin County High School student Morgan Martin also provided an interpretive dance.