Lindsey welcomes me and introduces herself with a firm handshake. “It is nice to meet you,” she says, “I am the administrative assistant here at Learn to Earn.” As we begin to talk I immediately note how professional, polished, and well-spoken she is. I quickly learn, however, that this has not always been the case. “To interview for this job I dyed my hair–it used to be purple. And I took out most of my piercings…I definitely went all out.” You see, in just five short months Lindsey had made some drastic changes–many of which were not just skin deep. Just over five months ago, Lindsey had been arrested for the umpteenth time, her addiction once more getting the best of her, and was being sentenced at drug court. Except this time, the judge ordered her to go into CrossRoads.
As I had mentioned in a previous post, CrossRoads is a transitional housing program for those struggling with addiction and substance abuse. A partnership between Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada and Washoe County Social Services, CrossRoads provides support, structure, resources, and programs to empower clients to succeed outside of the prison system and away from the captivity of addiction. One of the reasons that I respect and believe in CrossRoads so deeply is because of its comprehensive and holistic nature. CrossRoads is not about slapping on a BandAid and wishing a client well, but rather about assisting the clients in obtaining tools that will allow them to change their lifestyle and survive and thrive in society. One of the most essential of these tools, in my opinion, is the Learn to Earn (LTE) Program.
The Learn to Earn Program has the mission of helping clients with job readiness in society. It is a multi-faceted program that is structured to be basic and easy to understand, and yet also give enough sophistication to provide the clients with what they will need to procure employment. In order to enroll in the required LTE course the clients must first complete Dignity Classes where they learn about professionalism and their own intrinsic value. Then they move on to the required, month long LTE program, divided up into two different sections: LT 101 and LT 201. In LT 101 the clients learn what barriers exist to getting a job, how to overcome some of those barriers, how to differentiate the personal from the professional, and how to create resumes, cover letters, etc. The focus is on understanding their unique skill set and growing in their self-awareness.
LT 201 shifts the focus to the next steps of the employment search with special attention being placed on interviewing skills, preparation, wardrobe, hygiene, and a variety of other topics including finding the directions to where you will be interviewing beforehand and what to do if you are asked an illegal interview question. The Program Coordinator, Joy, also runs the class through a simulation called “CrossRoads Snow Lodge.” Through this exercise students are able to read realistic job descriptions for the CrossRoads Snow Lodge (a fictitious entity), such as a maintenance opening and a line cook position, and work on preparing accordingly. The course culminates with students being ready to enter the workforce. Joy is hopeful that they will soon be able to implement an LTE 301 course in which the ideals of job research and professional behaviors in the workplace can be discussed and improved. She would also like to have time with the students in the computer lab to be available to assist as they fill out applications and pursue job opportunities in real time.
I ask Joy what are some of the biggest issues that she sees the students facing, and she tells me that hands down the most difficult is their criminal history. It prevents them from getting sustainable, legal jobs, and shuts and locks doors that would otherwise be open. She also sees a large amount of her students take the first available job they come across, regardless of its quality or longevity. “This is what we call ‘addictive skills’…they see an opportunity and they grab it without a second thought. Part of my job is to help them evolve these perceived weaknesses and to help them transform them into strengths.”
An excellent example of this was given by Lindsey, whom we met at the beginning of this blog. “People come in here and some of them have never had a real [legal] job before…so we help them see that even if what they were doing was bad, they can still use some of those skills. So you take someone who has only ever known how to sell [drugs] and you focus on their networking, their use of resources, their marketing. And you help them see how they can use all of those things in a real job.”
The strengths based approach of LTE has been paying off, especially over the last few months. Since October 2016, over 64 clients, the majority of whom have criminal records and are battling severe addictions, were hired and are currently employed. And the part of this program that is even better than this statistic according to Joy? “Seeing the students change for the better and grow, seeing them learn about their talents and understand their dignity..it’s really amazing.”
Do you know of a company or organization that is looking to hire quality, skilled employees who are looking for a second chance? Do you know a business owner or department manager who wants to be a part of something amazing? If so, please contact me at email@example.com with more information.