Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Pottstown Works Job Seekers Learn, Teach Lessons

The first class of Pottstown Works.

Blogger's Note: We have a guest blogger today, former Mercury Editor Nancy March, now the Program Director of Pottstown Works offers her thoughts on the first class to move through the program.

Pottstown Works, the new program at The Salvation Army of Pottstown to help the under-employed find sustainable jobs, is up and running. We graduated our first class of job seekers two weeks ago and are actively pursuing jobs for them.

Since being introduced to Pottstown area community leaders last fall, this program has been embraced by many people, churches and organizations. Every week, there are connections that come our way. Call them “God moments,” or miracles, or acts of kindness – these coincidences are tearing down obstacles and opening doors.

This first class was something of a miracle itself. The founders of Pottstown Works – four women who comprise the majority of our advisory committee – and me, as director, decided in April to set May 22 as the date for a first class, even though we had no qualified applicants at the time. Last fall, we said we’d be active by summer, and we wanted to keep that promise.

As a startup program, we knew it might be difficult to find people matching our criteria. Our program is part of the replication of Cincinnati Works, a model founded 20 years ago that has generated jobs, improved retention for employers, and taken people off assistance programs to the tune of $15 million. The Cincinnati model sets initial membership criteria that applicants are drug-free and have no criminal background. Our goal is to benefit businesses as well as people in need, and that raises the bar for applicants. We needed to be selective, particularly with this first class.

We put out flyers, posters on Pottstown Area Regional Transit buses, and talked to local and county agencies who deal with people experiencing poverty and joblessness. Our referrals came from county employment and training case workers, housing resource managers, and the Pottstown Area Cluster of Religious Communities, among others.

The result of this recruitment was our First Class: Four people – three men and one woman who are unemployed and seeking to get out of poverty.

The foundation of Cincinnati Works is its Job Readiness Workshop, a 40-hour curriculum intended to instill in members standards of professionalism and confidence needed to succeed in getting and keeping a job. Not only does it teach and practice interview skills, it also works on resolving conflict and other barriers to continued employment.
Nancy March retired as editor of The Mercury last year.

The curriculum is fast-paced and interactive, both for class and instructors. Throughout the week, I learned from them, witnessing grace, humor, courage, tolerance and a remarkable capacity to accept and give, whether it’s a compliment, a criticism or an affirmation.

The four of them are from very different backgrounds and circumstances but they have in common that life’s pitfalls have caused a downward spiral into joblessness and poverty.

One of the class members once owned his own business; another was a salesperson in a high-end department store. One is a Navy veteran. The fourth worked in health care. Three are loving parents of young children, from infant to fifth grade. All share a strong desire to rise above circumstances and create a better life for themselves and their families.

They are not looking for an easy way out. They want to work. For five days, they worked on themselves. They changed their appearances from down-and-out to up-and-coming. They changed their speech and their demeanor. They gave each other a little bit of courage and a lot of support to overcome a sense that each is in this journey alone.

They gave me a lot, too. Watching them work together reinforced the value of team work. Their affirmations not only of their own convictions but also of their classmates demonstrated the power of empathetic understanding.

Now, they are off to a job search with the help of our advisory committee serving as Employment Coaches. If we’re successful, local employers will soon have the benefit of these fine people in their workforce.

During the two months that I’ve been working in this program, I’ve also had a fresh exposure to some of the positives in this community. Visiting manufacturing sites – Jacquet Mid-Atlantic, American Keg, Precision Polymer, among others – has been enlightening to see the progression of manufacturing and new outlets for jobs.

Our goal in this program is to bring together the skills and work ethic of our first graduates with the opportunities in the local workplace. We have no doubt that with the confidence of our community, it will happen. Our next class will be in August, with more to come.

We believe Pottstown works, and so far, it’s working toward results.

Nancy March is program director of Pottstown Works for The Salvation Army of Pottstown. She is the former editor of The Mercury. To learn more about Pottstown Works or to refer someone for class or as an employer partner, email nancy.march@use.salvationarmy.org.

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