Two years ago, Jamie* came to to CUMAC’s Pathways to Work, a program designed to provide critical job skills and resume boosting opportunities to help participants move on to employment. She was assigned to our Community Closet, which acts as a disaster relief center and thrift shop, where she would help sort donations, stock shelves, and assist management in meeting day-to-day needs in the busy center. Jamie was a single mom who often had trouble finding childcare for her son. She had a lot of personal issues that made it hard for her to get to work every day. She was unemployed, had little money and no child support coming in, lacked reliable transportation, and was struggling to access food and other necessities for her family. These are the types of complex issues that can’t be easily set aside, and Jamie always came to work with problems weighing heavy on her shoulders. She was never clear of worry and her work performance showed it.
Still, the management in our thrift shop saw something special in Jamie, an untapped but undeniable potential that came through. As our Thrift Shop Assistant Coordinator, Gene, always says: “You can always look at who comes and you can tell who really wants more responsibility, more guidance. With a little direction, it is amazing to see the way people blossom.” With that ethos, Gene and Teresa, the Thrift Shop Manager, begin to give Jamie more responsibility within the shop to see how she would respond to it. They put her in charge of clothing, making her the go-to for all color coding, sizing, and organization on the floor.
Theresa may have a soft spot for helping Pathways participants grow. She says she often remembers her own start in the Pathways to Work program, where as she learned the ropes and gained responsibility she grew to love her work, eventually becoming a staff member and moving up the ranks to become Thrift Shop Manager. Her story is mirrored in Jamie’s, who “picked up beautifully” with more responsibility and guidance. Gene remembers that with the extra responsibility around the shop attitude changed and her work ethic blossomed. She’d take off her jacket in the morning and get right to it, diving in with rapt attention to detail and ownership of her domain. As told by Gene, “She got so good that, before we knew it, we’d lost her to a major department store!”
Before long, Jamie did exactly what time in Pathways is supposed to help people do. She went out searching for a job and landed one in record time. Within a few short weeks of landing a job in a major retail giant, Jamie came back excited to tell us that she had become assistant night manager, with major responsibilities for other staff, money management and closing the building at the end of the day! Our staff fondly remembers being “just floored it had happened so fast and so, so proud of her.” One major concern of ours — one that is faced by many low-income families and individuals once they find jobs — was that Jamie was taking a few buses to get to and from work. Her shifts would end late at night and she’d have to walk home from the bus stop. But Jamie promised us that she always had her boyfriend wait for her and walk back with her, and that they made it work.
Just recently, Gene was walking from a parking lot across the street into our building when a car stopped and a women jumped out, engulfing her in a huge hug. That woman was Jamie, who was beyond excited to tell Gene “I’m so glad I saw you and get to show you I have a car now! No more taking the bus!” She had her son, now a handsome, chatty kindergartener, safely and happily tucked in the back seat and heading off to school. As told best by Gene, “That’s what it’s all about here. You get your beginning and you move on from there. Now she’s able to afford a car, insurance. I bet she never dreamed in her lifetime that she’d own a car and would be driving it and taking on all the responsibility that comes with it! She learned her work ethic here and used it to position herself in the corporate world. She’s making life better for herself, her family, her son. That’s exactly what it is all about.”
On any given day, around 40 individuals receive job training through the Pathways to Work program. They help fill a multitude of roles that are vital to making our mission possible. In return, they have the opportunity to learn new skills, boost their resume and move on to gainful employment. We are honored to work with each of the participants that come through our doors and are overjoyed when they move on to opportunities and careers.
If you’d like to make a donation to help CUMAC change lives, visit our Donate page. Funding is critical to making stories like these possible. If you have a job related skill you’d like to teach, or job opportunities to share, we’d love to work with you and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. *Name has been changed.