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Jobs for Life: Church program coaches people to find and keep employment

Caitlin Allen

Caitlin Allen gives the first student address during the ceremony. (Jon Lakey/Salisbury Post)

Caitlin Allen gives the first student address during the ceremony. (Jon Lakey/Salisbury Post)

By Susan Shinn

For the Salisbury Post

William Dye stood proudly, attired in a dark blue cap and gown, surrounded by family and friends. It was his first graduation.

Dye is a member of the first graduating class of Jobs for Life, an initiative led by First Baptist Church of Salisbury. A special service was held last week for the 15 graduates — 11 of whom already have jobs.

Jobs for Life seeks to turn the traditional faith-based assistance model upside down. While the majority of churches typically offer assistance when it comes to distributing food and clothing, and providing housing assistance, very few — just 2 percent — are doing something about putting people to work, according to the Rev. Rod Kerr, site director for Jobs for Life.

Kerr termed it a “next step and second chance ministry.”

The philosophy behind Jobs for Life is that if someone has a job, he or she can then provide the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their families.

It’s not an easy task.

Jobs for Life used 125 volunteers over the course of the eight-week program. Folks served as mentors, instructors, members of the food and hospitality team, the business relations team, the prayer team and more.

To be a part of the class, students had to apply and go through an interview process. Classes met twice a week for two-hour sessions — meals were provided — and included lengthy homework assignments. Students could miss no more than three classes, and then that work had to be made up.

Dye didn’t miss a class.

He’s now a member of the custodial staff at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center. His supervisor has offered him a bonus to recruit more employees like him.

“Whatever I do, I do to the best of my ability,” Dye said.

The program supported him in a variety of ways.

“That atmosphere of ‘You can do it!’ kept me going,” Dye said. “When you’ve got people who’ve been hurting, who’ve been down and out, there are so many positive things about this program. They showed us love. I want to better myself. I want to have positive people in my life, and help others.”

Each graduate has developed a vocational plan. Dye’s plan is to obtain his GED and own his own business.

“I can do this,” he said. “I’ve got somebody rooting for me. My mentor, Tom Speaks, is not just 99 percent but 100 percent behind me. This is the most powerful thing I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never had nobody showing they cared for me.”

Jobs for Life is unapologetically a faith-based initiative. It works because Christians want to work for the greater good, according to Byron McMillan, director of content and training for Jobs for Life, which is based in Raleigh. He said that it was unusual to have such a high number of students graduating with jobs already in hand.

“Scripture teaches us to be people of character,” McMillan said. Employers say that they can train people, he said. What they cannot teach is character.

That’s what Jobs for Life does. Students learn how to write resumés, but they also learn how to conduct themselves in an interview. They learn about workplace culture. They hear from local business owners. And they have mentors that attend every class with them.

Speaks Windows has been on Main Street for 38 years, according to Speaks, Dye’s mentor.

“We’re close to the Employment Security Commission, and we have people stop by, sometimes daily, looking for work,” he said. “It’s sad how people don’t know how to greet you and ask for a job.”

Speaks is sold on Jobs for Life.

“It’s so terrific,” he said. “We help students learn the basic skills of a job search, how to get and keep a job. We teach social skills.”

Dr. David Hall served as a mentor.

“I have volunteered at Rowan Helping Ministries, and there are so many temporary fixes there,” he says. “We saw this as a way to help students cope and advance.”

It was a huge difference, said mentor Dave Green, to see the students on the first night, and see them on graduation night.

“They’re so full of life now,” he said.

Stephanie Palmore’s husband, Nick, is a graduate of the program.

“We’ve had some real rough financial spots in the last year,” said Palmore, who works full-time for Salisbury Pediatric Associates. Her husband has worked a series of temporary jobs. “We felt like this was something to help him be more positive. It’s boosted his confidence. His personality seems a little different. It’s a good thing.”

Having a spouse out of work, she said, “puts a strain on everything. I feel like things have gotten better.”

Several students spoke during the Wednesday evening graduation ceremony.

Caitlin Allen said that the class was all about learning, growing, studying and making connections. “The sky is the limit as I trust in God and as I apply what I’ve been blessed with.”

“It’s hard to put in words what you have done for me,” Jason Sapp said. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I will not let you down. You cared enough to give me a second chance.”

As she spoke to the good-sized crowd gathered in the sanctuary, Adriana Berrios said she had been told to picture everyone in their underwear.

“That did not help!” she said, drawing chuckles.

She called the class a wonderful experience. “We determined our employment goals by discovering our God-given talents and interests. Our mentors had faith in us and guided us through this journey.”

Berrios said she wanted to serve as a mentor for the next class.

Mayor Paul Woodson gave the graduates the following advice as they enter the workplace: dress for success, come to work every day, smile and never complain, ask for promotions and have a great attitude.

“May this Easter be the most special Easter, because we’ve seen a resurrection take place in these students,” McMillan said.

Then students stood and received their diplomas from their mentors, the colors of the stained-glass windows reflecting on their robes and on the giant wooden cross swathed in purple cloth.

For more information about Jobs for Life, contact Rod Kerr at 704-633-0431 or rod@fbcsalisbury.org. “Mapping Your Career Course,” a mini JFL course, is set for 10 a.m. –noon on May 20. Call the church to register.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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