Enabling Independence by Breaking Barriers to Employment and a Living Wage

a story from Deborah Campbell and Jim Morris

At Catholic Family Center (CFC), we believe if you give people hope, they can do anything.

From supporting vulnerable families and children facing the barriers of poverty, to empowering those who are struggling with the challenges of addiction and mental health issues on their path to recovery, to enabling people to become independent through necessary support and employment skills, over 500 staff at CFC work every day in over 45 programs and services to embrace individuals and families as they seek to fulfill their human dignity.

Earning income from employment, at a living wage, is an important goal for so many of the individuals that come to CFC seeking to provide for their families and improve their quality of life. Our Workforce Development team serves the employment needs of some of Rochester’s most vulnerable populations, such as refugees and immigrants seeking self-sufficiency, at-risk youth, those without a high school diploma and those facing mental health and substance abuse challenges.

Mentors are special people walking side-by-side with our clients.

Through our YouthBuild* program, mentors offer a key difference to what CFC is able to provide our youth. These wonderful people leverage their professional experience and personal fortitude to help our youth navigate educational, training and employment opportunities. They offer support, guidance and coaching to our youth, while inspiring them to be successful.

Nathan Owens served the United States Army for 10 years. In the military, he learned the importance of giving back to the community. Nate said, “I believe I should reach back to help others achieve their goals. Mentoring is about inspiring others to bring out their greatness within them. It allows them to become great individuals and give each one the support needed for a chance to make improvements.”

Nick Brown has worked with “at-risk” youth (a term he does not like, as it can over-generalize and separate an individual from their broader educational and peer culture) for the past 8 years in various capacities doing experiential education and project-based learning. He has found his passion and drive in mentoring. Nick shares that his goal as a mentor is not to have every student become a carpenter, his goal is to get them on the right path and not making bad choices.

Both Nick and Nate see themselves as life coaches. They are there to help them learn from past mistakes and deal with issues in their lives. Every morning before class the group has an “open circle” when the students discuss some the issues and challenges each face every day. They are grateful to be one person that is not judging them or putting them up against the wall. Nick speaks on the importance of restorative justice to allow the kids to understand that they have a lot to contribute to society, even if people do not recognize it. Nate describes this as, “Speaking life into them.”

Connecting clients to the healthiest opportunities for their journey.

As you can see, the approach of our staff is comprehensive. Our job counselors, case managers, mentors and volunteers understand that it’s not enough to simply place people in open job positions. In employment, success takes the form of comprehensive assessments to take the full measure of our client’s life journey, their education and the skills that they’ve learned. We address our client’s fears about entry into the workforce and walk with them in formulating their employment or career goals. We help guide and assist in their preparatory work, editing resumes and connecting clients to mock interviews or mentors in their career field of interest. We connect clients to partnering agencies in the educational and career training fields to improve their job prospects and earning potential.

Once clients are ready to start working, CFC job developers work to match those clients with open positions at one of the many companies that have long-standing relationships with us. This long list includes companies like Cannon Industries, Fieldtex Products, Inc., Hickey Freeman Co., University of Rochester Medical Center (Strong Staffing), Wegmans, and many local construction and carpentry firms.

Our post-placement work is just as important as the preparatory efforts in that so many of our clients face on-going challenges that could easily derail sustained employment. Our staff maintains contact throughout the post-placement period so that clients feel supported in their new work and have a trusted partner to address barriers that could otherwise lead to job loss.

Overcoming barriers to employability

Connie first came to Catholic Family Center in the fall of 2004 after being referred from drug court. After spending years drowning in addiction and being in and out of jail, she found hope for a better life when she came to Liberty Manor, one of our residential rehabilitation programs for women on their path to recovery.

“I always thought I’d go back to using. Liberty Manor put me in touch with other women and I got to see how they were doing things…they inspired me to want to try those things in my own recovery.”

While at Liberty Manor, Connie got involved with CFC’s Healthy Sisters Soup & Beanworks, and quickly worked her way “up the ladder”. She was a product expeditor working to get the product to different locations. For the first time, she felt trusted, which boosted her confidence as well. She shares a story of when she was working at a festival in Syracuse, and was responsible to bring back all of the cash from sales. She was shocked at first, but her manager’s trust in her motivated her to want to be someone they could trust and depend on. “Sometimes, we think if we have a relationship with the criminal justice system, we are unemployable. The Bean project acted as a resume filler, giving experience and demonstrable skills to apply for a meaningful job.” She now lives in Northeast Chili and stays busy working full time and volunteering. She has proudly been clean and sober for 15 years!

For our Workforce Development department, employment is more than just achievement of that goal. It is about understanding where clients have come from and what they hope for the future, and helping them leverage their own strengths to bridge that past to their future. This is very personal for us all, and we are very proud to take part and walk with our clients each day on their journey.

Enabling Independence with dignity…with supports from our Workforce Development team, our clients are able to identify and create solutions to issues that are limiting them, and their families, from living independently.

*YouthBuild is a national movement operated locally in Rochester by Catholic Family Center, providing job training and educational opportunities for at-risk youth while assisting in the construction or rehabilitation of affordable housing for low-income or homeless families in their own communities.

Driven by a deeply held, faith-based commitment to embrace the poorest and most vulnerable, Catholic Family Center connects them to a continuum of life-changing services. We collaborate with partners to offer hope to all regardless of their religion. We are a catalyst for social change and difference-making opportunities that will heal our community.

Catholic Family Center is the largest provider of family services in #ROC, addressing issues of need across all stages of life. See more: www.cfcrochester.org

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store