“What does a white guy in a suit know about poor people?”
That’s what David Phillips said everyone asked when he decided to open a nonprofit to help low-income people find jobs.
And Phillips has made it his mission to know as much as he can about poverty and its far-reaching consequences. After retirement, Phillips and his wife, Liane, looked at their hometown of Cincinnati — a city with pockets of high poverty — and decided to do something.
They opened Cincinnati Works in 1996 to help residents find jobs. Over time, Phillips learned that the problem goes deeper than simply locating employment.
“People can find a job,” Phillips said. “The hard part is keeping it.”
The reasons are complicated. Phillips says single parents get fired because they have to take time off work when a child is sick. Mental illness can also create roadblocks.
“It seems to have nothing to do with keeping a job, but it has everything to do with it,” Phillips said.
To help ease those stressors, CW provides assistance with childcare, transportation, work clothes, and mental and physical health care for the entire family, as well as assistance to help with any other barriers to employment.
The biggest impact the organization has had, though, has been on Phillips himself, who says he is amazed at the strength of the human spirit. He recalled attending a CW participant’s wedding.
“This big, tall guy ran over to me and picked me up off the floor. He said that without the CW, he’d be dead right now. That was powerful.”
According to its own statistics, CW has placed more than 9,000 people in the workforce since it opened its doors in 1996.
Phillips is now traveling the nation sharing the CW model with other communities.
“Poverty is totally unacceptable in our society,” Phillips said. “It’s a condition that strips people of all human dignity. It’s time for citizens to say it is our responsibility and it’s time to say ‘no’ to poverty.”