250 Shots at Helping the Disadvantaged

October 16, 2014

Making an impact on one individual’s life is a fulfilling thing. It can pleasantly linger in someone’s memory for decades depending on the situation and what was accomplished. Each year has roughly 250 work days in it, so last year the VISTA program allowed me 250 opportunities to strongly impact individuals’ lives. During the last 12 months I served as a job counselor for the neighbors (disadvantaged and homeless individuals) who receive services at the Urban Ministry Center. Over the 12 months of my VISTA commitment, a few things I was able to do are (names of neighbors have been changed):

  1. Develop a relationship with a company which was open to interviewing our neighbors and hiring according to qualifications. Three individuals received Library Resume Helplong-term employment through this company. Patrick is now working full time and earning $12 per hour ($18 when he gets overtime) and he has moved into an apartment; Frank works full time and is looking for a second job; and Samantha stayed with the company for a few months and then moved up to a better opportunity with a different company. (When the first company employed her, they hired her realizing that she was bound for bigger challenges.)
  2. Collaborate with volunteer job counselors at the Urban Ministry Center in presenting resume-writing resources from the Public Library to a neighbor who was unemployed and sleeping in his truck. The neighbor (with assistance from job counselors) constructed a resume, obtained a job with a reputable company, obtained temporary housing, helped another neighbor get hired at the same company, and stayed employed until relocating to another city to aid an ailing home-bound relative.
  3. Develop a pilot program in which job coaches work long-term with neighbors who find employment. The job coaches mentor the newly hired neighbors, encourage them, advise them in soft skills and life-skills in general, and coach them in human resources issues as necessary. The two coaches currently working in this program, Steve Pernotto and Ryan Caya, each mentor two neighbors. Since many of the neighbors who secure employment also lose their jobs due to lack of soft skills, discouragement, tardiness/absenteeism, and other preventable causes, we found that job coaches could be a needed element in the continued success of the newly employed.
  4. Interact with an organization which helps recently released convicts to find jobs. In one case, this agency was able to find work for a neighbor, James, but they could not help him obtain tools which he needed for the job. The Urban Ministry Center became involved and helped the gentleman purchase his tools. James was hired and is currently working; and he is actually one of the individuals being mentored by the job coaches mentioned above (in No.3).

Job OpeningsBefore I was a VISTA volunteer I worked for a year at Urban Ministry Center as a grant contractor, helping the neighbors find work. I stayed on last year through VISTA, because I enjoyed connecting with individuals who needed and wanted help. I found myself doing what I was doing as an extension of my faith. And all things considered, I could be in the same boat as the disadvantaged people I serve. I enjoy extending to them the same opportunities that I had growing up. For a number of reasons, many of these people did not have the privileges I had. I found that opening a door for them now is a way to give them a way out of their current situation, and a possible way into something better.

These are only a few ways in which the VISTA program gave me opportunities to help disadvantaged humans. Again, helping one individual in a meaningful way would be a true blessing for everyone involved, but my experience at the Urban Ministry Center through the VISTA program afforded me opportunities every day —- easily 250 opportunities over the year.

I am grateful to have had this experience.   In my perspective this could be an invigorating experience for anyone; an opportunity to give a part of your life away to people who are experiencing one or more serious challenges in life. Contact our volunteer coordinators to find out how you can enjoy these opportunities too.