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The first thing you notice when you enter the doors of Boca Helping Hands is the hustle and bustle.

Everywhere you look there are volunteers rushing about. It’s a Thursday and Boca Helping Hands is getting ready to serve hot meals to a growing line of people idling in their cars waiting for their dinner and a shopping bag of carefully curated foods.

It’s a stunning sight to see—at once heartening and sobering. These are working people—our friends, neighbors, maybe even our co-workers who struggle to make ends meet in 2024 South Florida.

There’s a new term—at least to my ears—to describe these people: ALICE which stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed. Many have several jobs to make ends meet. They struggle with housing, food costs, bills, and insurance. An unexpected expense can upend their world.

So, while it is encouraging to see the community respond, it is also heartbreaking to see the struggle. We have become a very expensive place to live.

Boca Helping Hands is on the front lines of this daily slog. While the name says Boca, the organization’s reach extends to central Palm Beach County including cities such as Delray Beach, Lantana and Lake Worth Beach.

 Boca Helping Hands is a 25-year-old nonprofit that has become one of the largest service providers in South Florida serving almost 35,000 people a year. There are 23 staff members and more than 300 volunteers. The board is an impressive list of local business leaders led by Chairman Gary Peters, a retired securities executive whose family foundation has given generously to the nonprofit for years.

We’re proud to announce that the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation has decided to help the cause with a $75,000 grant to expand an existing job training program.

The program speaks loudly to our philosophy of providing a “hand up, not a handout.” Our founder Carl Desantis believed in helping people find a sustainable path in life. Mr. D believed in education and training that could lift people to a better station in life.

The Boca Helping Hands Job Training Program (JTP) works with community partners to provide adult workforce training for unemployed and underemployed adults.

The program takes a holistic approach to their clientele identifying barriers to employment and providing mentoring, training, certifications and needed support to find and secure employment.

The program is run in three phrases starting with an assessment of individual needs followed by vocational training in one of 11 “in demand careers” and culminating in on-site or virtual mentoring to make sure clients stay employed.

Boca Helping Hands works closely with local workforce development programs, colleges, universities, and social service providers to make sure that programs are current and lead to employment. Clients receive help with food security issues, housing, and general well-being issues.

Boca Helping Hands invests in people and all that goes with that investment: care goes into making sure that issues like childcare, transportation and the ‘hiccups’ of life don’t derail the opportunity for a better life.

Careers include: commercial driver’s (starting salaries $60K), electrician, plumbers, HVAC repair, medical billing, and certified nursing assistants.

Since 2020, the program has helped 213 clients gain the skills they need to escape poverty.

The program is supported by others local partners including the Jim Moran Foundation, United Way of Palm Beach, and individual donors. There is a broad base of support.

During our visit, we met with Executive Director Greg Hazle, Director of Development Steve King and Director of Career Development Trina Chin Cheong. We also met with board member Dr. Sarah Lochner, a physician. We were impressed with their commitment and the smart design behind their training program.

The program is designed to make sure students succeed. They provide a lot of handholding and counseling to ensure success. The numbers back it up. And while the handholding may sound like a lot of work, it’s needed to ensure success. Life happens and there needs to be a plan to help people navigate the issues they encounter on the path to a better future.

If you can trade $15 an hour into a job paying $55K plus a year it makes a difference. It’s not an answer to all problems, but it’s a step in the right direction. Investments in programs that change lives is always worthwhile.


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