By Ambria Hammel
The Catholic Sun Newspaper
Being a job seeker is stressful enough without the added weight of being a home-seeker too.
The challenging, but all-too-common duo makes up the bulk of St. Joseph the Worker’s clients. The nonprofit, located on Phoenix’s Human Services Campus, provides basic job services and employment resources for 1,500 client contacts per month. At least 75 men and women visit the office daily to create resumes, prepare for interviews in the clothing closet or secure bus passes for an interview or the job itself.
“We average a person getting employed every day,” said Brent Downs, St. Joseph the Worker’s executive director.
Lately, clients, who are hired on their own merit, have been doing better than that with 422 of them gaining employment last year. Roughly 35 percent had benefits.
Whether they’re employed or still looking, this week marks a special time of all clients.
St. Joseph the Worker kicked off its annual “hydrate the homeless” water drive May 1, a date that lined up with the feast of its patron saint. Tomorrow, the agency’s job developers will honor four of St. Joseph the Worker’s stand out clients and one corporation during its annual feast day celebration at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.
“We have a fantastic support network,” said Molly Pino, development specialist for St. Joseph the Worker.
Volunteers spent 2,200 hours last year helping clients write resumes, learn interview skills and other administrative tasks. Pino said they’re viewed more as staff than volunteers.
She credited Scottsdale Healthcare, who will be recognized as Corporation of the Year, for recently expanding a benefit hike — the agency’s primary fundraiser — to a second location and taking care of logistics. More than 1,100 hikers joined the annual Hike for the Homeless in both Goodyear and Fountain Hills in March.
The hikes raised more than $65,000. That’s roughly the amount St. Joseph the Worker spends on bus fare annually to get clients to interviews and to work before those first paychecks arrive.
The privately-funded organization also provides employed clients with gift cards to area eateries for lunch. It could be their only food source when long bus rides to and from the homeless shelter have clients returning to nearby shelters after dinner hours.
“It’s those simple little things that we don’t think twice about,” said Downs, executive director.
He said it’s easy for homeless individuals to become the “invisible population” and knows all-too-well the importance of having a practice and moral support network for them. He once spent a month on the streets eating out of dumpsters and selling the quality food he salvaged. Downs ultimately hit rock bottom and reached out to family who helped him,.
“A lot of people don’t have that option,” Downs said.
Like Lisa — clients are known publicly by first name only. None of the interviews she had lined up before moving to Arizona panned out. She ultimately received an offer from a local gym to be a fitness instructor. St. Joseph the Worker’s resources helped her fill out and send initial paperwork, select clothes for orientation and funds to buy quality footwear.
Things don’t always work out the way they’re planned though and when they don’t, their personal job developer and the rest of St. Joseph the Worker’s staff is there for moral support and strategy. Four clients lost their job in March as a direct result of several Valley Metro bus drivers going on strike. One client was due to start a new job the same day bus drivers temporarily halted theirs.
All have since found other jobs and credit the job coaching and motivation that are a constant at St. Joseph the Worker.
“We want to be that support system for the clients,” Downs said.
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