By Marilyn Odendahl, Truth Staff

INDIANAPOLIS -- Swamped with increasing numbers of unemployed, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development is turning to faith groups, community organizations and libraries for help.

The state agency announced a partnership Thursday with the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and the State Library to provide training as well as computers to local groups interested in helping Hoosiers file for unemployment benefits.

The DWD is touting the initiative as providing more locations for out-of-work state residents to file unemployment claims. It did not release any information on the cost of the new program.

Since all initial unemployment claims must be done online, the state contends that increasing computer availability and training additional volunteers will reduce the number of errors in first-time applications and speed delivery of benefits.

"We'd be glad to. We'd be glad to help," said Leonard Cook, senior minister at the River of Life church in Elkhart. "That's what our building is for. We're here to help the community."

Doing community outreach is not only how River of Life was started but how the church continues to operate, Cook said. As the jobless rate has risen, the church has provided more financial assistance and prayed for the unemployed in its congregation which, according to Cook, has helped 50 members get full-time jobs.

The minister said the church must help because the government cannot do everything.

"It's important that we do get involved," Cook said. "We do have some foundational steps the people need to get into."

Recently, the DWD announced plans to put agency staff members in some Elkhart County libraries to help the unemployed who come to file claims. This initiative would train library workers across the state so they can answer questions and help the jobless maneuver the online system.

However, the single training session the state has organized for interested groups will be held only in Indianapolis and not until the end of February.

Also, as part of this new program, the DWD will loan up to 200 surplus state computers to groups that do not have enough computers to meet the demand in their area.

Roberta L. Brooker, Indiana State librarian, supported the DWD's effort.

"By providing additional computers and training, we will increase the wealth of knowledge available at the library in addition to providing Hoosiers with an additional service in their time of need," Brooker stated in a release.

December unemployment figures announced earlier show 260,000 Indiana residents are without a job.

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