As many as six floors in the former Ohio Casualty Insurance building at Dayton and Third streets in Hamilton will be transformed into housing for Miami University Regionals students participating in the Work+ program. The program is also partnering with the Amer-I-Can program founded by NFL legend Jim Brown. NICK GRAHAM/FILE

Officials say this unique partnership is helping Hamilton’s comeback story

The recently announced partnership between the Work+ and Amer-I-Can programs will include qualifying students earning rent-free living and employer-paid education as they building Hamilton’s next generation of residents.

NFL legend Jim Brown, who founded the Amer-I-Can program in 1988, said he was pleased to sit with Butler County decision-makers last week who “are not afraid” to bring an unconventional approach to improve the lives of the next generation, and the community.

“It’s amazing to be sitting here knowing how difficult it’s been around the country, but you guys understand it. And you’re participation in it – you’re not afraid,” Brown said in the Aug. 4 meeting with state, Hamilton and Miami University officials, and Butler County business owners.

“There’s no limit to how this can be an example to this country.”

Work+ is a new Miami University Regionals program designed to encourage young people to continue their education even if they need to enter the workforce.

The program, with the help of four businesses, allows young people to work part-time jobs as they continue their education. If they are hired and accepted into the program, these students are provided rent-free housing year-round at the Third + Dayton building (the former Ohio Casualty Insurance Group building) in downtown Hamilton. And as long as they maintain a C-minus in a Miami University Regionals course, their employers will pay for their education.

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“The city has worked very closely with IRG as they have brought the former Ohio Casualty complex back to life,” said Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith.

“We will continue to work with Amer-I-Can, Work+, Miami University and the other partners because we know how beneficial this unique, collaborative approach to economic development will be for our community.”

Work+ was developed by Ohio Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., who helped pitch a partnership to Brown and his wife, Monique. Brown created the Amer-I-Can program with the goals of enabling individuals to meet their academic potential and equipping them with critical life-management skills to be contributing members of society.

“This is kind of a laboratory we’re building here,” Coley said. “This might be something we’ll need in all residential areas in the country.”

Brown agreed in the Aug. 4 conversation the partnership has the potential for nationwide appeal.

The program will help Hamilton’s metamorphosis into a rising industrial city as it continues its comeback story, Smith said. The city in recent years has pushed downtown living for young professionals and encouraged more downtown dining and nightlife options.

The Third + Dayton building will help lead to more young people to live downtown as it starts with two student housing floors. As the program grows, up to four more floors can be developed into student housing, building owner Stewart Lichter said last week.

The top floor will be for market-rate apartments and the bottom floor will feature retailers and a space for the Amer-I-Can program. The Amer-I-Can program will also run continuing education and life skills programs to the community and the youth, said Monique Brown.

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“Early on, we understood the importance of starting in our urban core, focusing on revitalization which led to job growth,” Smith said. “Seeing the restaurants, apartments, parks and shops open in recent years has provided positive signals to residents, visitors and prospective businesses.”

Spooky Nook is just the latest project pushing the momentum for the city to bring in more focused investment into the neighborhoods. The Work+/Amer-I-Can partnership can also help the city’s 17 Hamilton neighborhoods “surge in a similar positive direction,” Smith said.

“The Hamilton Parks Conservancy was the first wave into our neighborhoods by reinvesting in our entire park system,” said Smith. “Our Infrastructure team is identifying ways to improve our neighborhoods by solving stormwater issues and other outstanding concerns. It is my hope that all our recent wins will increase the velocity of organic investment into all parts of Hamilton.”

The pilot class for Work+ is between 40 and 50 people, and Ty’ Ron Little, a 19-year-old rising sophomore at Miami University in Oxford, is helping the university identify young people who would benefit from this program.

Little grew up in multiple homes on Cincinnati’s west side and overcame potential pitfalls that could have landed him in trouble. But he focused on his education and the 2018 Schoder High School graduate earned a full-ride scholarship through the Men Organized Respectful Education, or M.O.R.E., program.

He said the Work+ program is ideal for some of his cousins, and others he knows in Cincinnati facing similar struggles he experienced. But their only option is to focus on work as they often can’t afford school, he said.

Little’s pitch, however, “eliminates the excuses,” he said.

“I tell them, ‘You’re doing the same thing you’re doing today, but with this you get to go to work and get a free education,’” he said. “It’s an opportunity for people to try something that they’re not used to trying … and this will open their minds and get them out of the rut.”

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