Chamber Chat - Job Seekers

Jul 22

By Meg Moss

 

Ten years ago the unemployment rate was creeping up.  That’s just about the time that Sanford Job Seekers really got going. It was also just about one year into Cindy Hall’s job at First Baptist Church. She was new, and a lot of professionals in the church were getting laid off. Several parishioners had been attending a job seekers club at a megachurch in Cary, and they wanted to see one started here in Lee County. They knew just the person who could orchestrate it. So they asked Cindy to join them in Cary one day so she could see what was going on.

 

“We pulled up and there was nowhere to park” Hall remembers. They had coffee, a meeting for all the job seekers, and a lot of encouragement. But Hall didn’t have experience in this arena. “I’d been a school teacher for twenty years. The Lord had to hit me over the head before I even took the job at the church.” But she saw the need, and started exploring.

 

Her first decision is that it wouldn’t be church related – it would be community related. And that’s why it’s called Sanford Job Seekers. The committee that started the program included folks such as Marvin Joyner, Jeff Hockaday, and a host of people looking for jobs. The committee asked Hall how long she thought this Job Seekers program might last. “Till the last person walks out of the door” was her reply. And here we are ten years later serving the job seekers in the community.

 

About a year into the program, 60 Minutes found their Facebook page and came to film a meeting and over 75 people attended. Soon after, they were picked up by Economic World Magazine, and then NPR did a story.

 

Hall said the success of the program is all about working together with community partners, and that’s one of the reasons why she loves Sanford so much. When Job Seekers got started, Well-Centered Counseling, then owned by Sarah Courtwright, offered free counseling to anyone who attended meetings. When you lose a job, lots of other things start to fall apart, so this was a huge component of the program, and has continued. Courtwright also conducted programs on how to handle stress. Courtwright recently left the area, but the free counseling will continue under the guidance of Tim Martin.

 

Another great partnership that has derived from Job Seekers is a partnership with NC Works. Each year, NC Works, First Baptist Church and the Salvation Army have come together to host a large job fair. Hall also now teaches job search classes at the NC Works offices on Lee Avenue.

 

Central Carolina Community College provides some of the programming for Job Seekers, and a lot of the people who come to Job Seekers have ultimately decided to go back to school, either for a degree, or to further their training in order to improve their chances of landing the job they really want. “Now that the unemployment rate is so low, I really have time to talk with people about their dream jobs and find out what their passions are” said Hall, and sometimes a little extra training is all they need in order to turn their passion into a job. The Small Business Center at the College has also done some programs on how to start your own business.

 

When a member of Job Seekers gains employment, they often return for one more meeting to celebrate their victory, and they often become an “ambassador” for Hall, letting her know of other job openings at their company.

 

About two years ago, Salvation Army Executive Director Chris Kelley contacted Hall about a Jobs for Life Program. Hall jumped right in to assist and they now have two – 8 week classes per year that do faith based in-depth job seeking skills paired with a mentoring program. Program participants who complete this course receive a free laptop through the partnership with The Salvation Army, First Baptist Church and the United Way.

 

Job Seekers has evolved over the last ten years. Hall says that even though the “economy was so good this last year,” people still struggle getting a job because they don’t know how to interview well, or can’t put together a good resume. Hall has helped write over a thousand resumes in the past ten years. And as she said in the beginning, she plans to keep it going until the last person walks out of the door.



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