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Group Strives to Spread Word on Unemployment Programs

In tough economic times, the words “unemployment” and “jobs” get thrown around a lot, particularly in Washington, D.C., where they are spoken of in abstract terms as statistics and political fodder.

But a new show premiering on the Sundance Channel on Monday night is seeking to put a face to a large segment of those statistics by shining a light on the chronically unemployed — ex-offenders, former addicts and the homeless — as well as an organization that’s trying to help them find gainful employment.

The docu-series, “Get To Work,” premiered its first episode in Washington on Thursday night at an event attended by journalists, labor experts and Lorenzo D. Harrison, senior executive for youth employment strategies at the Labor Department.

The series focuses on a program called STRIVE, a nonprofit that offers free-of-charge boot camps for the chronically unemployed, helping that segment of the population focus on attitude adjustment and interview skills to make them employable and keep them off the streets and out of the country’s overflowing prison system.

Roll Call spoke with STRIVE founder Rob Carmona and STRIVE job trainer Rob Smith — whose work can be seen on the show — who said the Washington premiere was part of an effort to get the work they do noticed by Congressional leaders who have the power to divert funding toward programs such as theirs.

“We think that this show will lay out that there are good things happening on the ground all over the country, and there are a number of organizations, not just STRIVE, doing this work and saving this society billions of dollars,” Carmona said.

Carmona added that organizations such as STRIVE have had a harder time getting Congressional funding since earmarks dried up and that he hopes the series will open the minds of Members of Congress so they can see that STRIVE and other programs like it are worth funding.

“We’re constantly using an old funding paradigm to help fund the field,” Carmona said. “And particularly in a time of economic challenge that this country is in, you would think that support for the different workforce agencies would be on the increase, but it is not.”

Harrison, who prior to his job at the Labor Department worked for STRIVE in Harlem, N.Y., said the department is happy to support organizations such as STRIVE that seek to educate and support one of the most disadvantaged segments of the population find work and stay out of prison.

“[STRIVE] is absolutely an essential component, maybe not a panacea, but an essential component to our country meeting the … challenge of reversing those [unemployment] numbers,” Harrison said.

“Get To Work” premieres on the Sundance Channel on Monday at 10:30 p.m.