The Building Employment Skills Together (BEST) workforce training program run by Ball State University has become a national model for community efficiency.
The program's efforts recently garnered a nomination for a Best Practice Award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"The training helped those individuals who had never touched a computer before," said Stephanie Huffman, who served as program manager for BEST. "It was a form of leadership training, and they could then utilize these skills both in the workplace and at home."
BEST was initiated to hone the skills of unemployed and underemployed workers in Delaware County by providing free training programs. BEST trained 2,700 workers in areas such as computers, building trades, job readiness skills and interpersonal skills.
"Several years ago, Delaware County lost four major employers due to closings, moves and consolidations," Huffman said. "Over 1,900 jobs were lost, and the community came together and said, 'what can we do?'"
BEST's two-year stint was a community-wide effort. Over 50 local individuals and organizations volunteered as program advisors.
Partners in BEST included Ball State's Center for Organizational Resources, the city of Muncie, Muncie Community Schools and East Central Opportunities, among others.
"It was a very unique partnership between the university and community stakeholders," said Huffman, currently an assistant director with the Center for Organizational Resources.
The program's initial goal had been to train about 1,000 workers. As BEST began to exceed that goal last year, it earned a University Continuing Education Award.
"The community came together to fit the need," Huffman said. "The program saw five houses built where vacant lots stood, and these properties went back on the tax roll for the city."
The Best Practice Award nomination is significant in that it recognizes BEST's contributions as a model for other communities across the nation.
"Proof that the program worked was shown by the number of people served, and the differences that were made in their lives," Huffman said.
The program was catalyzed by a $1 million grant Ball State received in 1999. The university had been alerted to the grant by then-Indiana gubernatorial candidate David McIntosh, currently a Ball State visiting assistant professor of economics.