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How We're Empowering Homeless and Low-Income Adults for Career Success

While our involvement wasn’t obvious at first, it became clear that our program could also help young people by instilling in them the values, skills and healthy work habits to prepare them for a lifetime of career success.

I remember the experience of applying for jobs after graduating from college. It was the summer of 2002 and I had just relocated from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C. I had earned a B.A. in International Relations and while I could wax poetic about Critical Constructivist Theory, none of my college classes taught me to write a clear and concise resume, the importance of networking, or prepared me for a conducting a job search. I relied on the advice and proofreading abilities of my parents and older sibling. Within three months of sending out resumes and leaving messages for employers, I was called in to interview for an entry-level position with an international non-profit organization. My father’s networking, on my behalf, paid-off: his colleague had a friend in a senior level position at the organization. I was hired (and was so relieved).

This article is not about the shortcomings of our educational system – although an important topic in itself. I am fully aware of how my upper/middle-class upbringing, educational opportunities, and guidance of family and friends opened many doors for me in my career. I don’t pretend for a minute that I would have had the same career trajectory, made sound decisions along the way, without a team of supporters rallying behind me.

In his article, Getting Youth Back on the College and Career Path, Cameron Schuster announced the creation (implementation?) of the Pathfinder Fellowship, a joint effort of GOOD/Corps and The California Endowment to help disadvantaged youth get on a college or career-ready path. Chrysalis, which was approached to participate, is a non-profit that provides low-income and homeless individuals with the support and resources needed to find and retain a job. We serve an older population (average age 42) that has many barriers to employment: low-income, low academic achievement, unstable housing, criminal history and substance abuse. While our involvement wasn’t obvious at first, it became clear that our program could also help young people by instilling in them the values, skills and healthy work habits to prepare them for a lifetime of career success.

Besides having proper identification, there is only one requirement to receiving Chrysalis’ services: being ready and willing to work. Our program is based on a self-directed job search model. As the saying goes, “If you give a man to fish, you feed him for a day…” By providing a hand up, not a hand out, individuals learn the importance of self-reliance and the satisfaction that comes with setting and achieving goals.

The Chrysalis’ Employment Program has a systematic approach to preparing people for employment. Some methods are simple: bus tokens to get to and from interviews, professional work attire, practice interviews and computers to conduct job searches. Some aren’t so simple: changing the way a person views themselves. We often speak about the necessity of having computer skills to land a job in today’s workplace. But what’s harder to quantify is perhaps the most valued service we offer: the opportunity to regain your dignity and self-respect.

As we near the end of the 12 week Pathfinder Fellowship program, Chrysalis will welcome the ten Fellows to our center on Main St. in downtown Los Angeles for an Employment “crash course” of sorts. The curriculum will include, what we call, “soft skills” – those oh-so-important qualities that employers look for in job candidates, such as: reliable, punctual, team-player, flexible, good communicator. Since few job searches are successful without a clear plan of action, we will also cover goal-planning and the basics of cover letters, resumes and thank you notes.

For people who don’t have the supportive network and guidance of parents and friends who are rallying on their sidelines, like I did, Chrysalis can fill that gap.

You can empower homeless and low-income adults give a hand up, not out by donating to our cause. $25 gives one hour of computer training, $50 gives two hours of practice interviews and $100 gives four hours of resume writing assistance. Contribute to The Power of an Hour campaign here.


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