As a 20-year-old, Samuel Perry fell in with a bad crowd and ended up in prison.

“I was incarcerated on three different occasions,” Perry said. “I knew I had to do something different.”

When he was released from prison a year ago, he was unable to find a full-time job. People would hire him only for temporary gigs like day labor.

Now 35 and with a family to support, Perry has found employment with the help of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado’s Hanifen Employment Center.

Perry attended a job fair in April at the Hanifen Center, which is adjacent to the Marian House Soup Kitchen.

“I didn’t know what was going to take place,” he said. “But I went in there dressed up and wanting to find a job.”

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Perry met a hiring manager from Colorado Industrial Recycling, who asked him to come back for a second interview, and was hired six weeks ago. He is in training and is learning to work with the various materials the recycling center handles.

“I’m just really thankful for the opportunity,” Perry said. “Seems like when one window gets closed, another window gets open. I just kept my head up and kept striving. I’m on a right path now.”

EMPLOYMENT PARTNERS

“So many of the people who come to the Hanifen Center are some of the hardest to find jobs for,” said Rachel Schlortt, chief communications officer for Catholic Charities. “They have possibly been incarcerated; maybe they’ve had gaps in employment. Maybe they’re homeless. There are a multitude of reasons why it’s difficult for them to find a job.

“Really, that’s our specialty — being able to place these folks who have come up against obstacles.”

The center sponsors several job fairs every year. The April event fielded 13 employers and 68 job seekers. In addition, the center hosts smaller hiring events each month, at which four to six employers meet with clients.

“People will interview and leave that day knowing whether or not they got a job,” Schlortt said.

The center has partnered with companies such as Spectrum, Luce Research and Academy Bank, and works with them to overcome obstacles.

Schlortt said the center assisted a man who was living at Springs Rescue Mission in finding employment at Luce Research.

“He got a job there, but he had to be back at a certain time,” Schlortt said. “We called over there, and they were able to allow him to come back later in the evening. This man has a new start in life, and they love him.”

The center also partners with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center and the Colorado Springs Housing & Building Association to place clients in an extensive, eight-week training program at the MiLL Academy in all areas of construction.

When they graduate, “HBA’s paying for all of their tools, which is $3,000-$4,000,” Schlortt said.

BUILDING CAREER SKILLS

Working out of the newly expanded Hanifen Center, manager Martha Bodell is focused on expanding the list of employment partners and services for job seekers. It has been providing basic instruction in job-finding skills but now will be able to offer more.

“We are seeing over 250 people a month,” she said.  “We are giving them resumé tips; we’re starting classes next month for interviewing skills, financial literacy and resumé building. Then we work with them on finding jobs.”

The center takes a case management approach to clients looking for jobs.

“We don’t want to just throw them here and there,” Bodell said. “We ask them the hard questions like, ‘Where do you want to be in five years? What do you want to do short term to get yourself pulled back up?’”

Clients who have a gap in their skills can enter the Marian House Works program, which offers training in career paths including maintenance, lawn care and culinary service.

Clients who are hired at the Marian House, Pikes Peak Work Force Center or another of the center’s partners are building their paths to a career.

One of the program’s differentiators is that Bodell and caseworkers personally follow up on clients they’ve placed to find out how they’re doing.

Bodell said she recently visited Colorado Industrial Recycling to check on Sam.

“The manager came up to me and he goes, ‘Are you the folks responsible for helping this young man? He is the most positive person. He’s on time, and we believe in giving people second chances. … Can you bring some more workers?’” she said.

“These are people who have been in some low places in life,” Schlortt said. But once they are accepted in a job, their confidence starts to grow.

“Confidence and self-esteem are half the battle.”

Bodell said the center is starting a new program that combines classes with the monthly job fairs and also provides individual counseling and attention.

The center’s clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds and situations, from stay-at-home moms who are starting over after divorce to those who are homeless. Bodell estimated that 25-29 percent of her clients are experiencing homelessness.

The common factor: “They are all vulnerable,” Bodell said. “They are all struggling with something.”

FOCUS ON EMPLOYMENT

Catholic Charities opened a small computer lab in what was then called the Life Skills and Career Development Center in 2014. Clients could check email, get assistance with computer skills and apply for jobs online.

In July 2015, the center’s focus changed to teaching life and employment skills, and working with employment partners to help clients get livable-wage jobs.

The first client was placed in July 2015, and by June 2017, 200 jobs had been filled. As of May, the center has helped to fill 489 jobs.

In November 2018, Catholic Charities received funds from El Pomar Foundation and the estate of Laura Everitt, a long-time business and economics teacher in Castle Rock, to expand the center.

“We realized we had the opportunity to do more,” said Andy Barton, CEO of Catholic Charities. “We felt it was an appropriate use of that gift for a woman who had spent her career helping young people get jobs.”

The Family Connections Center, formerly located in the glass-fronted building that houses the Hanifen Center, was moved to another part of the Marian House campus.

Walls were removed, and the space was converted into an expanded computer lab with twice the number of computers, provided by the Downtown Rotary Club, Amnet and Firma IT Solutions; an office for case managers; and a reception area. The classroom also serves as a conference room in which job interviews take place.

The expanded center opened three months ago.

“We have the right space, but it is the relationships that make it work,” Barton said at an open house at the center May 22.

People who are experiencing homelessness or other difficulties often are told to just “Get a job,” Barton said.

“This is a place of opportunity, a place of hope, a place where the dignity of work will become a reality for folks who are working so hard to fight their way out of the crushing weight of poverty. We’re happy to help change that curse of ‘Get a job’ from one of judgment to one of opportunity.”