The Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) has received statewide recognition for its jobs assistance program.

The Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) has received statewide recognition for its jobs assistance program.

The Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations awarded WARM the Ohio Nonprofit Excellence Award at a ceremony held at the Ohio Statehouse May 11. The Westerville agency was among 100 nominees for the award, which recognizes creativity, execution, achievement and overall excellence of a specific program.

Staff members knew WARM was one of the finalists, but didn't learn that they'd won the award until the ceremony itself, director Scott Marier said.

WARM was recognized for Steps to Overcome Poverty, or STOP.

"From a professional standards standpoint, to have the statewide nonprofit association validate the quality of our program, that's worth a ton," he said. "Hopefully, it communicates to our donors that the work we're doing as a local social service agency is important to the welfare of our community."

Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations spokeswoman Jennifer Eschbach said award recipients are chosen by a selection committee made up of people from all over the state.

STOP was initiated in 2004, piloted with grant money and put into full operation in 2005.

Westerville school district residents who live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and are unemployed or underemployed are eligible for the program. Over the course of 12 months, participants are trained in job search tactics, interviewing skills and how to prepare resumes and write cover letters.

"We like to think of it as our own economic stimulus program," Marier said. "The project is geared toward permanently getting them employed or stabilizing their employment so they can transition into self-sufficiency."

Participants work with a counselor to put together an individual employment plan. They take a skill test to determine what jobs might be a good fit, work on their resumes, practice interviews and learn how to dress.

WARM volunteers provide the training and work with local agencies to help place the candidates in jobs. STOP participants who are placed in jobs are observed to track their attendance, demographic and household information in order to help gauge how well the program is working.

And it is working, Marier said.

"For every dollar that we've invested in the program, employees earned $5," he said.

Last year, 145 people enrolled in STOP. Of those, 43 found employment, and 35 of those who did have been employed for 12 months or longer.

"Their one-year earnings average $11.20 per hour," Marier said.

Altogether, they have earned $815,000, he said.

"So for those who completed the program and retained their jobs, that's a 509-percent return on investment," Marier said.