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Pipeline to Paychecks

A year ago he was out of work, homeless and sleeping on the floor of a friend’s apartment.

Now he’s in training to become a software instructor capable of earning more than $50,000 a year as he travels the nation helping hospitals and clinics use the latest in medical records technology.

Through Kennedy-King College and LISC's Centers for Working Familes, Army vet Terrence Prayer's now employed as an IT professional at Allscripts, a provider of health records systems, in the Merchandise Mart.

Eric Young Smith

But the rise of Terrence Anthony Prayer from jobless Army veteran to skilled IT professional is more than a story of personal transformation. It also describes an emerging template – a promising new path for economic advancement – that is evolving between LISC-supported Centers for Working Families and the City Colleges of Chicago.

Prayer’s story also displays the potential of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s College to Careers initiative that has major employers working with City Colleges to tailor curricula – and connect students – to job openings.

Allscripts steps up

In this case, Chicago-based Allscripts, a fast-growing provider of electronic health records systems to physician groups and hospitals, last spring agreed with the mayor to hire and train more than 40 City Colleges grads to assist with the global rollout of its newest software.

The city promises to pay the trainees’ entry-level salaries for the first six months. Once they're certified as health information technologists, Allscripts will take over, and the City Colleges grads hopefully will be making between $50,000 and $80,000 annually within two years.

“This program will help us create jobs that are available immediately for graduates of the City Colleges,” Emanuel said in announcing the agreement, which also involves other hiring and expansion of Allscripts headquarters here. 

Glen Tullman, CEO of Allscripts, seconded that his company is eager “to advance the public-private partnership between our company and the city, and to support the mayor in the College to Careers program.”

The Center for Working Families at Kennedy-King College, managed by Metropolitan Family Services, is the first CWF on the campus of a community college.

Gordon Walek

Crash course

Allscripts, understandably, wanted to do its own candidate interviewing and selecting. The immediate challenge for the colleges, then, was to recruit likely candidates and help prepare them for the hiring process. That would mean a crash course in resume writing, effective interviewing and, for some, a refresher on the proper dress and demeanor expected in a white-collar workplace.

One campus in particular had a leg up in this effort. That would be Kennedy-King College, and not just because it has the system’s newest campus at the corner of 63rd and Halsted streets, the crossroads of the South Side’s impoverished Englewood neighborhood. More than a year ago, in partnership with Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), Chancellor Cheryl Hyman invited LISC Chicago to install one of its Centers for Working Families in a storefront at that key corner.

“It has proven to be a great and logical fit,” said Lori Littleton, who oversees the Kennedy-King CWF, which is managed by Metropolitan Family Services.

Now expanded to 13 Centers in working-class neighborhoods across the city, LISC’s CWF network provides a range of economic advancement services, from job placement and career development to financial coaching by experienced financial counselors, and from digital literacy classes and benefits counseling to financial products that help with raising one’s credit score. 

On campus

It turns out, argues Ricki Lowitz, who coordinates the CWF network for LISC, that City Colleges students and graduates need those things too. The City Colleges already provide academic counseling (which courses to take, how many credit hours are needed for this degree or that) but City Colleges students, she said, are coping with issues more common to Englewood and Little Village than Oxford or Cambridge. Issues like poor credit, inadequate housing, delinquent bills, and all the rest.

So the Kennedy-King CWF has been serving a mixture of walk-ins from the neighborhood and students who have only to walk across the school’s main lobby into the back door of the center. Now, with the Allscripts opportunity – and others that may follow – there’s fresh excitement about readying students for good-paying jobs.

Last March, after Emanuel inked the deal with Allscripts, Lori Littleton and her CWF staff got busy reaching out to eligible students and preparing a series of job readiness workshops. After a plenary orientation session for interested graduates and near-graduates there were hands-on sessions on resume writing, interviewing technique, personal comportment … all leading to a put-it-all-together mock job interviews.

Dressed for success

By mid-April, when the hopefuls actually sat down with Allscripts recruiters, their voices were businesslike and confidence levels high.

“They held our hand step-by-step,” Prayer remembers of the training provided by Littleton and job-readiness specialist Ivan Ramos. “Right down to the wording of my [resume] cover letter, it all came together.”

It's expected that the CWF at Kennedy-King College, opened last fall, will be a resourse for students and nearby residents.

Gordon Walek

Somehow the Kennedy-King CWF, with its soup-to-nuts connections via Metropolitan Family Services, even managed to find a suit of clothes for Prayer’s big day.

“I didn’t have anything decent to wear,” he said. “I mean, I was sleeping on people’s floors, then at the Safe Haven shelter at Roosevelt and California. So they found me a business suit in my size and a clean shirt. I wore it to the interview and, after I was selected, to the Allscripts orientation at the Marriott. I got the big welcome from Allscripts’ CEO and the City Colleges Chancellor. It was incredible.”

It didn’t seem entirely real, said Prayer, until he showed up for his first day of intensive training at Allscripts' Merchandise Mart offices … and saw his nameplate on his work/study cubicle. “Suddenly I’m somebody. I mean, I was blown away.”

This summer Prayer is living at a YMCA on the West Side (with help from a veteran’s housing stipend arranged via CWF) and commuting to his daily Allscripts training on the CTA’s Green Line. Next summer he hopes to be traveling the country, teaching and troubleshooting medical software.

“The Center for Working Families? What have they done? They give you a base, a base you can build on. They changed my life,” Prayer said.

And they are positioned, CWF managers hope, to change more lives. “There’s a real potential for other employers to recruit, screen and prepare candidates through our Centers,” said Vivian Moore, program manager at Metropolitan Family Services. “It’s a linkage opportunity – between college and the workplace. It’s what the mayor talks about. It’s what everyone involved would like to see.”  

The LISC CWF Network in Chicago was developed with lead funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation (creator of the CWF concept), United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Crown Family Philanthropies, State Farm, Walter S. Mander Foundation, and Walmart. Support for LISC’s CWF network also comes from the federal Social Innovation Fund.  

More information: Ricki Lowitz, LISC Chicago Director of Economic Opportunities,


Posted in Financial Opportunities, Englewood


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