Sarah Kersey is one of about 260 people who have found work through the Catholic Charities of Central Colorado jobs program, officially known as the Life Skills & Career Development Center, since its inception two years ago.
About 10 local businesses and nonprofits partner with the program, which works to find jobs for people the organization says are often considered “unemployable” due to their lack of skills and resources.
Kersey, who has a high school diploma and attended a year of college, wasn’t as far behind as some, said Life Skills instructor Sherry Stulpin, who helped create the program. But Stulpin said Kersey was still in need of assistance.
Broke, homeless and without a job, Kersey found herself sleeping at the Salvation Army’s R.J. Montgomery Center. That was in 2015, when her money ran out after she moved to Colorado Springs from Maryland. She found assistance through Catholic Charities and used the Life Skills program to turn her life around.
Kersey received one-on-one assistance — like the program’s other job seekers — that included interview and resumé tips, as well as being provided food, clothing and bus passes. When she was hired by the Salvation Army, that organization broke its rule about having an employee who was receiving its services, as she was still sleeping at the shelter.
That job led to Kersey gaining stability and renting an apartment. She still remembers getting that initial job in the Springs — she later worked for Discover Goodwill and now is employed by Catholic Charities — and she proudly pointed to her name on the list of Life Skills alumni.
“When my name went up on the board — where they put it whenever someone gets a job — I got pretty emotional,” Kersey said. “To see your name up there…”
She apologized for the tears rolling down her cheeks, but not for smiling while she was crying.
“You work so hard and finally doors are opening up for you,” she said. “I know so many other people who work so hard and they still have a hard time getting a job. It’s a wonderful feeling when you accomplish something like that.”
She said the assistance was invaluable.
“Without their help, it would’ve taken me a lot longer to get a job,” said Kersey, who slept at the shelter for seven months. “I probably would’ve been like other homeless people, sleeping on a bench or in a shelter.”
MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL PARTNERSHIP
Discover Goodwill has partnered with Catholic Charities and its Life Skills jobs program for more than two years, since Stulpin, who has a master’s degree in education, met Discover Goodwill recruiter Cindy Cartwright.
“It’s definitely been one of our best community partnerships,” Cartwright said. “We’ve hired more than 30 people from the Life Skills program. Some of these folks have barriers to employment but [the program] is definitely helping. They’re getting these folks to the point where they are job-ready, and all the work they’re doing there makes for a direct line to us, because we have the same concept — getting people back to work.”
Cartwright typically goes to Catholic Charities’ Marian House every six weeks for a hiring event.
“I think it’s huge for our community,” Cartwright said. “I’m always promoting their program and sharing the idea with my other community contacts — businesses that could also partner with them to help put people to work.”
Other partners in the program, said Catholic Charities Chief Communications Officer Rochelle Blaschke Schlortt, are Goodwill Staffing, Bingo Burger, Synq3, People Ready, Elwood Staffing, Fairfield Inn, Colorado Industrial Recycling, Conduent and Natural Grocers.
Lindsay Cheatham, senior staffing manager of Elwood Staffing, had a hiring event last week at Catholic Charities. At her previous hiring event, she was able to find jobs for three of Catholic Charities’ clients.
Catholic Charities CEO Andy Barton credited Stulpin for her role in taking the nonprofit’s computer lab and turning it into a jobs program.
“Sherry had the toolbox to bring it all together,” Barton said. “We’ve got folks who understand what it’s like not to work, and I think that has the opportunity to make them better employees. We also certainly have people who are learning those job skills, and we’re lucky to have employers who are willing to work with us on that.”
Barton said the program has gained momentum, especially when people see Kersey and others obtain employment.
“People walk in now who three years ago didn’t think they’d be able to find work,” Barton said. “Now they see a name on the wall and they know other people who found jobs and that gives [the Life Skills program] the opportunity to build on itself.”
Stulpin said the program “is a wonderful place for people who need individualization. We’re client centric; you won’t just be a number with us.”
“We’re not chasing numbers,” said Catholic Charities Community Programs Manager Joel Fluegge. “We work with people one-on-one and that’s a major reason for our success.”
NEW WORKPLACE PROGRAM
Catholic Charities recently moved its Family Connections program from its Marian House campus at 14 W. Bijou St. to 917 E. Moreno, site of the Helen Hunt Campus that is also home to five other nonprofits.
Beginning Jan. 8, a new class will be offered called “English in the Workplace.”
City Councilor Yolanda Avila, who represents the southeast part of the city, said that the new class could benefit many of her constituents.
“If you speak English, you have better chances; it just goes hand in hand,” Avila said. “That class will absolutely benefit anyone who wants to learn English or speak it more fluently. That can lead to getting a better job. I think it’s really important to be bilingual; me being fluent in both [English and Spanish] opened up doors for me, and job opportunities.”
Barton said moving the Family Connections part of Catholic Charities to the Helen Hunt Campus will provide more room at the main campus on Bijou Street and allow him to hire at least one more worker to help Stulpin and Fluegge, who are assisted by a handful of volunteers in their one-on-one counseling.
Barton said there is dignity in work, and most homeless people do want to have a job.
“Someone who is experiencing homelessness in our community costs the community roughly $55,000 a year when you count all the social services costs [such as nutrition assistance],” he said. “What I think the Life Skills program does is turn that upside down, because when they get a job, then we can find housing and stability. So the idea is that it goes from them costing the community $55,000 to them paying taxes and buying products and contributing to the community. So I think that economic impact is significant. And it’s not only impactful for employers but also the business community, because we’re helping move folks who weren’t out buying meals, groceries and gas and paying rent back to where they are doing those things.”