Heather Brown had long sought a job, but she was unsure of exactly how to do it; she had even gone door to door. And she was discouraged.
Then she was referred to a new Jobs for Life initiative at Community of Hope.
“It has completely changed my life,” said Brown, a wife and mother. “This has just been an awesome experience. I had let myself down … . Because I looked back at the things I did in my past and looked at where I am to date.”
Brown, like other graduates of the program, brimmed with a new-found pride and confidence at a graduation ceremony Tuesday in the gym at First Baptist Church of Garner. Brown has already secured a new job at Dunkin’ Donuts, and she quickly completed two weeks of training in one. Even with a job, she was able to finish the class with perfect attendance.
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Nine, all who have received services through Community of Hope in the past, graduated from a 10-person class that aimed to provide real-world job and job acquisition skills and guidance.
The broader Jobs for Life program started in Raleigh and has spread to other communities, and this program has beaten its stated expectations. Six of the participants have already found new jobs – one, Tonianne Sellers, has gotten two jobs – all done with the guidance of a team of volunteer teachers, mentors and other helpers. The rest are working toward that end as well.
“I was one of those people who believed if you need a job, you just need to go out and get one,” said Barbara Kuley, a staffing professional who coordinated the class. “You can’t complain about people not working if you are not willing to help them. Not everyone finds themselves in an unemployed position because they’re a deadbeat.”
Kuley said she gained an appreciation for the variety of obstacles to employability, such as access to transportation and proficiency with technology. The 16-class course with homework covered everything from basic computer and Internet skills to resume building and interview skills.
“I had no idea what I was getting into, but knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” said Bruce Talley, the “class valedictorian.”
Talley has worked in janitorial services since he was 12 years old. When Dorothea Dix Hospital closed, his position shifted to Central Regional Hospital in Butner, and he drives to work at 4 a.m. each day. The hour commute ate into his salary and his time, but he didn’t know what was needed to get another job.
He said learning the ins and outs of resumes and interviews helped him to get an interview with WakeMed this week.
“I believe in myself now more than I ever did,” he said on stage at the graduation ceremony.
New ministry, new hope
Community of Hope director Amy White had encountered Catrina Allen at the McDonald’s drive-thru repeatedly after grabbing some food while transporting her children. Allen noticed, and she finally asked the family their names. The next time through, she remembered.
“She was always smiling, always engaging – she had a great attitude,” White said. “Then one time, she walked in as a client at the food pantry.”
Allen had a family at home to take care of, and she wanted to move up in her career. But she had dropped out of high school. White, certain she could command a better-paying job with her customer service capabilities, told her about the program. Initially skeptical, Allen tried it – and she stuck with it.
“I didn’t have self-esteem. I put myself down a lot,” Allen said. “This is a really good class.”
At the ceremony, each student gave his or her elevator speech – a short pitch meant to quickly get across qualifications, skills and experience in limited time. Allen went first, and between talking first and her overwhelming emotions, she choked up and paused. But she remembered instructions to breathe, and she finished. It was the first of many emotional moments on a night in which several people shed tears of joy and gratitude – including Kuley, after the students presented her with a gift.
“In a step of faith I said ‘yes’ (to organizing the program). Thank God he sent me an army of volunteers,” Kuley said.
White said the board of Community of Hope grappled with the idea of adding yet another ministry organization. That army of volunteers made it work, along with various business partners. The idea had been inspired by the book “When Helping Hurts” which talks about the dangers of perpetual dependency. Ultimately they partnered with Work for Life.
“Barb Kuley is by far the shining star. She took this program and ran with it,” White said.
The reasons students found the program vary: Some were unemployed, and others underemployed; some had troubled pasts, and others had been kept out of the workplace by family commitments.
But they all ended up in the same place with the same goal: improving their employment situations.
And they all expressed untempered gratitude for the program as well as the community in general. Roger Rollins, 60, took the class along with his wife of 30 years, Nedra.
“It means a lot to see this church and this community to provide the services they provide,” said Rollins, who has plumbing and electrical experience and touts himself a handyman. “It’s the people in the church, they’re real good people.”