One Columbus woman found more than a new job a few weeks ago. She found motivation and hope for a better future.
That’s much of the idea behind Bartholomew County Works. The new United Way of Bartholomew County program is meant to help unemployed or underemployed residents find a better, more stable life and, eventually, a job with insurance and annual earnings of at least $35,000.
A United Way study has shown that’s the minimum income needed for a family of four to reach economic self-sufficiency. Promoting financial stability is a current, five-year theme for United
Way and its member agencies and programs since figures show that one-third of local families are not making ends meet.
“I feel like I have a real future again,” Carrie Davies said of her five-week-old position as customer service manager at the local Elwood Staffing job placement firm. “I think this is a really good fit.”
Davies is one of 16 people in the free program’s initial classes recently moving from training and mentoring into the job market. Thirteen of those people have found jobs.
The next class, with eight current openings, begins its training Monday at YES Cinema and Conference Center, covering topics such as:
Résumé and interview tips.
Online job searches.
Wardrobe tips for interviews and the work place.
Managing emotions on the job.
Community members, such as agency and corporate leaders and human resources personnel, cover such material during a week of informal presentations.
“We do a lot of work on individuals’ personal barriers,” said Brenda Hotopp, Bartholomew County Works’ self-sufficiency coach. “We began to see changes in some people nearly from Day One.”
Ideally, the program wants to reach more low-income residents or those with a low-income history. But Hotopp acknowledged that, so far, classes have included a mix of lower-income and unemployed white-collar residents.
A key support piece to the program is the role of local partners aiming to hire and encourage new workers. They include employee placement firms, major employers, nonprofit agencies, and local and state government offices.
Partners have been educated on the program’s mission and have agreed to hire program graduates who meet the company’s needs while pointing them toward personal development goals and self-sufficiency, Hotopp said. Some of the partners can hire for only entry-level positions.
But for people with a history of challenges, that can be a step in the right direction.
“Any type of program designed to boost the workforce is a great thing,” said Heather Babb, regional vice president for partner Malone Staffing, which has conducted mock interviews for the program’s candidates. “I think they’re doing the right thing with what has been a successful program elsewhere.”
Cathy King, United Way’s financial stability coordinator overseeing the program, said the training ideally is meant for groups no larger than a dozen people.
“The nice thing about working with smaller groups is that it allows us to individualize all the class members’ training and plans,” King said. “Of course, we’d still like to see a lot of folks go through the program.”
King said leaders are considering ways to evaluate the success of the classes. She said data probably will include class members’ salary level, personal obstacles they overcame, personal goals achieved and other details.
“Helping to get them a job is only the tip of the iceberg,” King said.
In fact, King emphasizes that class members always will have access to Hotopp and the program’s resources and expertise. The idea is to provide them with continuing encouragement in their effort to improve their lot in life.
Davies, who lost a job as a retail store manager in April after a company restructuring, appreciates that encouragement.
Hotopp met with Davies weekly or more often as she posted or emailed résumés for positions she barely missed getting. The meetings helped Davies keep her focus. Guest speakers’ wisdom allowed her to overcome dismissal from her former job and potential feelings of rejection.
“There were people there (speaking to the class) who also had been through a restructuring,” Davies said. “That was very helpful to me.”
Karen Phelps, another Bartholomew County Works class member, is still working to land a new job. The former Camp Atterbury security clearance staffer ideally would like to work in customer service.
“I’ve been praying about it,” Phelps said, adding that she is filing about four job applications per day. “And I think it’s eventually going to come.”
She called the local program “one that’s definitely going the extra mile” for people eager to get hired.
Phelps said, “It’s a good feeling to know that, through all of this, there’s always someone cheering for me and going to bat for me.”