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Virtual event launches programs

ELKINS — Two new programs that will help serve the residents of Randolph, Barbour, Tucker, Upshur and Lewis counties were launched during a virtual event on Thursday as Highland Community Builders introduced its new Financial Opportunity Center and Digital Navigator Program, aimed to aid citizens in many different areas of need.

Highland Community Builders has partnered with Rural LISC, the Randolph County Housing Authority and HomeOwnership Center to assist with the new programs, which were made possible through financial support from the Robert Wood Johnson/Benedum Foundation partnership.

“With the effects of the COVID pandemic in our region, we decided that this would be a good time to put this Financial Opportunity Center together in our region,” said Karen Jacobson, Highland Community Builders board member. “We know the pandemic is creating economic hardship for households in our region so we’ve created a range of short-term emergency oriented programs in collaboration with some of our partners to help with financial assistance and eviction prevention.

“The Financial Opportunity Center is giving us the chance to help people with things like financial planning, accessing social benefits that households might not have had to access before, and getting employment coaching. So it’s a really good fit for this time in our history to launch this kind of a program. I think it’s a great model because it meets people where they are and helps them set goals that mean something to them, and reach them with the help of a coach.”

Coaches from the Financial Opportunity Center will work one-on-one with citizens to help in an array of areas such as employment, non-asset-related debt and credit history.

“Our first step in putting this together was to reach out to the HomeOwnership Center as a key partner,” said Jacobson. “They have been providing home buyer education to individuals and households for over 20 years now. So their expertise is going to be really critical to our success.”

The Digital Navigator Program, meanwhile, will offer advice to citizens who are seeking internet options, looking to purchase a computer or other digital equipment, and who need computer training.

“For the Financial Opportunity Center we are hoping to serve about 50 to 60 families, get them actively involved in the program,” said Jennifer Griggs, grants manager of the Randolph County Housing Authority. “We are reaching out to so many more, but this may not be the right time for them. Some of our families, especially some of those affected by COVID, are in crisis mode. So our goal is to follow up with them throughout 2021 and see if it may be a better time for them.

“For the Digital Navigator Program, our goal is to help about 75 families with both low-cost internet and potentially low-cost computers. But the big thing is training people who may lack some of those skills on how to use a computer.”

The launch of the programs coincided with Digital Inclusion Week, which raises awareness about digital inequities and the solutions addressing home internet access, personal devices and local technology training and support programs.

To learn more about one of the programs, schedule an appointment by calling 304-940-6776, or email rcha@rchawv.org attention Jennifer Griggs.

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