On Front Lines of Poverty War, Conflict Between Broward Agencies

With Florida experiencing record unemployment rates, it's critical that the nonprofit agencies helping low-income people find jobs get along with one another. But the stress has begun to fray relations between at least two Broward County agencies with an important role in that mission.

Positive Image is the nonprofit agency that since 1997 has been giving free dress clothes to low-income people who need them for job interviews. But as of today, it's no longer able to serve South Broward. That's because Workforce One, the nonprofit that administers federal programs for job placement, has tossed Positive Image from its Hollywood facility.

Geogia Foster, executive director of Positive Image, blames it on a misunderstanding -- Workforce One's.

In a meeting a few weeks ago with Workforce One's president/CEO, Mason Jackson, she says she mentioned that Positive Manage has monthly expenses of $15,000. Jackson assumed -- wrongly, she says -- that she was asking his agency to supply that monthly funding. Not long after the meeting, Workforce One told Foster it couldn't afford to fund her agency and before she could explain she didn't need nearly that much, she was ordered to vacate the boutique space at 7550 Davie Road Extension.

That directive came during a time when Positive Image had missed out on federal grants that in the past sustained it. "I guess there's more people writing proposals," says Foster. Last week, she teamed with a Positive Image success story-turned-volunteer to go looking for a church that would let the agency stay in its space rent-free.

But yesterday, the deal they thought they had with a Lutheran church fell through. Foster says that church members expressed concern about Positive Image clients being close to the church's day care.

Meanwhile, Workforce One was getting impatient, calling Foster twice a day to find out when she'd be hauling away the clothes she'd stockpiled at the facility. "The amount of time we've been there, the good service we've given them -- they could have given us more time," says Foster. Workforce One was anxious to turn the former boutique into a computer lab.

Having no other options, Foster agreed to let the agency give away the clothing to Faith Farm. But since that organization isn't making the pick-up till Tuesday, she's still hoping for a miracle. And it seems that hers is the kind of miracle this economy -- and this region -- can provide. There's no shortage of vacant storefront in Broward County, as you can see by the photo tour Bob Norman posted on Pulp a few days ago.

This is the second time Workforce One has given Positive Image the heave-ho. In 2001 it ousted the agency from its space on Oakland Park Boulevard, just west of I-95. Foster says her agency was lucky to find space across the street in a building where a fire had chased away the previous tenants.

Workforce One also supplies low-income people with clothing, but without Positive Image involved the agency simply gives vouchers that the client can use at a retail store like KMart or T.J. Max. Too often, says Foster, those clients would use the voucher instead to buy frivolous items, or attire that's inappropriate for interviews. Positive Image, on the other hand, picked from its stacks of dress clothes to give clients a free, entirely appropriate ensemble.

"Even yesterday we got a call from a man who went to Workforce One," says Foster. The man needed interview clothes, a resume, and advice about where to look. So why wasn't he at the county agency that gets publicly funding for these services -- Workforce One? Says Foster, "They told him to come to us."


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