News: Hard to Work

Agency helps 'unemployables' build a future

Jymi Bolden

For Kelley Rogers, the "plus" in Jobs Plus is the opportunity to help others.

You killed your father when you were 17 years old. Now you're out of prison. You need a job.

But you need a lot more than that.

The Jobs Plus Employment Network has an un-dramatic name, but its clients often have tragic life stories that would seem to leave them hopeless — or at least unemployable.

A nonprofit agency formed in 1994, Jobs Plus facilitates employment for men and women who face enormous personal obstacles. Sixty-five percent of the agency's referrals have felony records, according to Burr Robinson, executive director.

Many clients believe their past is a sure indicator of a dead-end future. Jobs Plus doesn't believe it — and it has the statistics to prove it.

"We tell them over and over again, 'If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got,' " Robinson says.

'The least, the last and the lost'
The neighborhood surrounding the Jobs Plus office is a reminder of the effects of poverty and broken lives.

Young people stand around without a place to go, hanging out without a purpose to pass the day. Empty buildings remind visitors how drastically different Vine Street downtown is from Vine in Over-the-Rhine.

The agency emphasizes the importance of finding, keeping and excelling at a job; but that isn't its only focus. Jobs Plus is a faith-based organization.

"The 'Plus' is not only successful in their job, but in their life," Robinson says.

Clients often have a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Their family structures have often broken down. Schools might not have served the people well and churches might not be around in a direct way, according to Robinson. In the end, they look for a sense of belonging on the streets.

"You're looking for a peer group, you're looking for acceptance," he says. "The issue is, has your life changed? Can you go in and convince the employer that the past is the past and the present is going to be the future?"

While in prison for 20 years, one Jobs Plus client earned a bachelor's degree and participated in Bible studies in an effort to turn his life around. Today he's a machine operator at a local manufacturing company.

"He says, 'I don't want the next 20 years to be like the last 20 years. My life will be over. I want to make something of my life,' " Robinson says.

The first woman client at Jobs Plus had five kids and lived in an abusive relationship, according to the Rev. Arnold Davis, senior job placement director. The woman, barely literate, had trouble filling out a job application.

With the help of Jobs Plus, she found employment as a nursing assistant. Today, Davis says, she's a homeowner.

Jobs Plus operates on a "threefold cord" approach. The staff builds relationships with clients and encourages them to seek relationships at the agency or church that referred them, as well as with their employers.

"A lot of our people are the least, the last and the lost," Davis says.

One client heard of Jobs Plus while she was in prison for killing her father when she was 17.

"One day she was wandering around here and she got lost and she thought, 'I've got to stop,' " Robinson says. "Is that by accident? I don't think so."

The woman confided to Robinson that her father had sexually abused her and her sisters.

"The clients — they'll open up to you and tell you things they won't tell other people," Davis says.

The woman is now working two jobs and attending church.

'They just welcome you in'
After an intake interview, clients go through a two-day seminar on finding and keeping jobs. They attend meetings of the Jobs Plus Club, which reinforces the attitudes and traits needed for progress. Candidates work closely with the staff during their job searches.

A strong religious component is part of the program. Robinson says many clients have been through periods of rebelliousness.

"God intervenes in their lives in one way or another," he says. "They turn from that."

A positive attitude about work is another component of the program.

"Clients think that employers are stingy, they don't pay enough," Robinson says. "We try to convince them that that's not the case. We try to show them essentially they've got a value to the employer. We want to change their attitude from 'What's in it for me' to 'How can I serve them' — because if you serve them, they're going to pay you."

Parole officers, social workers and churches refer candidates to the program.

Busken Bakery has hired several Jobs Plus clients, some of whom have worked for the company for several years, according to Phil Fenech, Busken's director of retail and key accounts.

"It does have to be a good chemistry and a good fit," he says. "I think the Busken family has been involved in a lot of different causes that they feel help the city and help underprivileged people, and this is one of them."

Kelley Rogers is proof the program can work. After she lost her job, her daycare provider told her about Jobs Plus.

"I was going through a whole lot," Rogers says. "They basically just put that plug in. When I walked in, I knew it had to be something dealing with the Lord, because I felt the spirit."

She has worked at the Gap Distribution Center in Northern Kentucky for almost five years.

"I really thank God for Jobs Plus," Rogers says. "The doors are open for anybody that has any types of problems. They just welcome you in."

In the fall, Rogers begins classes at Northern Kentucky University. An essay she wrote led the Gap to send her to Honduras to help build a home for a needy family.

"Jobs Plus gave it to me and my family and I wanted to give it back," Rogers says. ©

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