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Jobs for Life seeks to turn traditional faith-based assistance model upside down

By Susan Shinn

For The Salisbury Post

Jobs for Life has gone viral.

The program that teaches job seekers how to get and keep jobs is housed locally at First Baptist Church. The church graduated its first class in April, and nearly all of the 15 students have jobs. The program is now a success story on the Jobs For Life Web site. Jobs for Life has some 300 sites in 10 countries.

Buoyed by this success, the First Baptist group is hosting a mini-course on Saturday, May 30, and has already scheduled its next eight-week course.

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.

Sharon Horton and Becky Albrecht are the program’s volunteer administrative assistants. Horton is a retired technology facilitator for Rowan-Salisbury Schools and Albrecht recently retired from the City of Salisbury.

“We’ve just been real excited to be involved,” Albrecht says. “We felt it was a definite need. When we started it, we had no idea how big it was going to be and how exciting it was going to be. I was amazed how we became a family. The students were not just students. We cared about them.”

“The reason they’re here is that they need and want that love,” Horton says. “They are seeking that family.”

Jobs for Life includes a cadre of volunteers — from First Baptist and other local congregations — who serve as instructors and mentors.

Through Jobs for Life, First Baptist has “broken the rules” on the traditional faith-based model of community assistance, and that’s been a good thing, Kerr says. He’s spoken to some 18 different civic groups, and has fielded numerous calls from employers. They can train employees, those employers tell him, but they need to have employees of good character.

“We took them where they were and accepted them,” Horton says of their students. “We gave them the information they needed, and it worked.”

“The commitment of the students was a reflection of the commitment of volunteers,” Kerr adds.

Volunteers certainly needed a break after the course ended, Albrecht says. “But it was such a void.”

That’s probably why most of the graduates are eager to come back and share what they’ve learned in future classes.

Next Saturday’s mini-course is entitled, “Charting Your Career Course,” and will take place from 9:45 a.m. to noon in the church’s First Ministry Center, 220 N. Fulton St. The event is free and is open to anyone — potential students and volunteers, community members, church members, employers — interested in learning more about Jobs for Life.

Attendees can choose from three of seven sessions offered by instructor and mentor teams on these topics: communication and conflict resolution; the ideal employee; developing a vocational plan; identifying your personality and interests; who is your customer?; interviewing skills; and how to write a resume.

Jerry Chandler will facilitate a community round table called “Where Do I Go When I Need Help?” with representatives from United Way, Rowan Helping Ministries, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and Rowan Public Library.

The morning includes refreshments and lunch. There will be time for questions and answers, and potential students can sign up for interviews for the fall course.

And if all that’s not exciting enough, a team from Jobs for Life will be coming to film the event.

“We’re becoming a training center for Jobs for Life,” Kerr says.

You would think these folks would have gotten pretty puffed up with all the positive results, but they haven’t.

“It’s an honor and a pleasure,” Horton says. “It’s been so humbling. It brings you to your knees.”

“It’s kind of overwhelming,” Albrecht says.

For more information about Jobs for life, contact the Rev. Rod Kerr at 704-633-0431 or rod@fbcsalisbury.org.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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