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Jobs for Life program is changing lives

By Susan Shinn

For the Salisbury Post

From the start, First Baptist Church had one of the most successful groups of graduates in Jobs for Life, a faith-based program that puts people to work. Eight-week classes take place at some 300 sites in 10 countries, and First Baptist has distinguished itself as a program that others want to duplicate.

Of course, if you know the folks at First Baptist, you know they’re not content to rest on their laurels. This fall, they aim to increase the amount of students they serve — up to 40 — and graduates from the spring class are eager to serve as motivational speakers.

Jobs for Life has changed lives — the lives of its graduates, the lives of its mentors, the lives of its volunteers. Out of its first 15 graduates, 85 percent now have jobs.

One graduate who’s found success quickly in William Patrick Dye, a utility worker at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center. Dye arrives anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before his workday begins.

“My supervisors tell me I’m doing a great job,” he says. “It’s been going pretty good so far. I’m working to the best of my ability.”

Before he took the classes, Dye says, he had lost his momentum. “I was down in my spirit. It was just looking bad, you know?”

But things began to look up.

Tom Speaks is Dye’s mentor.

“When I first met Patrick, he could hardly look me in the eye,” Speaks says. “I saw a change.”

He looks at his friend, sitting beside him at the table during a recent gathering of graduates, mentors and volunteers.

“You came to class, you participated, you prayed,” Speaks says. “You just came out of your shell. I saw you just felt so much better. It was exciting to me.”

Speaks, who owns Speaks Windows, says an employee’s positive attitude goes a long way — as does showing up on a regular basis.

“I had to dismiss a guy last week because of chronic absenteeism,” he says.

But Speaks has benefited from being a mentor.

“It gave me someone important to care about and pray about on a daily basis,” he says. “It put me on a different plane in my walk with the Lord, in having somebody to remember every day.”

Graduate Adriana Berrios got a job at Innospec, a global specialty chemical company.

“I felt like I struck gold,” she says. “My co-workers are my family, and my boss is amazing and supportive.”

Berrios is in training to become an assistant customer service representative.

“Jobs for Life was perfect for me,” she says. “It taught me the soft skills of dealing with customers and workplace issues, and how to react when customers are upset. It was perfect timing for me.”

Berrios now has a place of her own, a new car, even pets.

“God’s love is relentless,” she says.

Nick Palmore, Walter Wall’s graduate, was not present at the meeting — he was at work.

“He got a job the last day of class,” Wall says. “He’s doing extremely well. He’s very dependable. He gained way more confidence and better focus. He took the classes seriously. He really needed this and he benefited from it.”

Not only do students attend classes over an 8-week session, they are matched with mentors and fed by volunteers. All told, some 125 volunteers were involved in Jobs for Life.

“When you first come here,” Dye explains, “you feel the welcome, the love, the power. It made us feel comfortable that we could open up. If you show love to people, you’ll get good results.”

“I was at a point where I had given up on employment,” says graduate Jason Sapp. He went through mock interviews with Jobs for Life before having a real interview a couple of days later. He now works for Custom Golf Cart Supply.

He plays golf once a week with his mentor, John Carlton, and attends service at First Baptist, too.

“I have a good church family,” Sapp says. “A lot of good came out of this.”

The Rev. Rod Kerr, Jobs for Life site director, says the program is the best of its kind he’s seen in his 40 years of ministry — the most invigorating and the most life-changing. He’s made nearly three dozen local presentations about the program.

“These students’ lives have been changed because of the people who have worked with them,” he says.

Beth Loney is a special-needs teacher who taught Jobs for Life classes. She shared her own hard-earned experiences with her students. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother was mentally ill.

“But God always put someone in my path to help me,” she says. “I’ve been harboring a lot of heartache, but this released something in me. I became close with my students. I’ve found so much more significance in my life. I feel really good about myself. I was faced with every single obstacle, but I persevered. I’m just on fire for this program.

“We built a family.”

Interview slots for prospective students are still available this month for the fall session, which begins Sept. 16, with graduation on Nov. 15. 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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