In a rough economy it’s hard to get A Second Chance

One year ago, the American dream was out of sight for Steve Wilkins. He was unemployed, had no education beyond high school and lived with his aunt on the Illinois side of St. Louis. Steve signed up for Illinois’ food stamp program. One condition of this program is that those who are able must attempt to find work. That’s how Steve found himself at Employment Connection.

Every year, over 1,500 of St. Louis’ unemployed find their way to Employment Connection. This nonprofit organization helps those struggling to work find and keep a job. While Employment Connection clients range from ex-offenders to women on welfare, most have one thing in common: the vast majority of the clients have no high school or college diploma.

Steve says the reason he didn’t further his education after a high school was because of his involvement in a gang. At that time, his own indifference to education, reinforced by other gang members, stopped him from continuing on to college. Now, Steve understands the value of an education and strongly encourages teenagers to continue their education after high school.

“A little education can go a long way,” Steve said. “Without the proper education, you’ll be working at a hamburger stand.”

Since the economic crash in 2008, Employment Connection has had more people come to them for help; however, due to a focus on quality instead of quantity, fewer clients are accepted. The clients that are accepted are one step closer to finding a job. One step closer to achieving the American dream.

“The American dream is just the opportunity to have choice and freedom and being able to go after the pursuit of happiness,” Employment Connection representative Jonathan Walz said. “With the economy being the way it is, you almost have to have a perfect pass in education to find an entry level position.”

Walz believes that in these economic times, the American dream is becoming harder to obtain. He cites the number of foreclosures, which are topping 8,000 a month nationwide, as proof that people are drifting further from achieving the American dream.

“The American dream is based on the idea of having things and being able to go after things. There are a lot of people now that are not even able to try to get the American dream,” Walz said. “The American dream is crumbling.”

At Employment Connection, they attempt to revive this crumbling dream. Here, clients get one step closer to achieving this dream by finding employment.

“We assist people with the American dream by helping them get on their feet and pointing them in the correct direction with the hope that they’ll find a job,” Walz said.

The first step at Employment Connection in achieving the dream is World of Work (WOW) training. This four day program instructs job seekers on topics such as interviewing, creating resumes and managing finances. After completing this program, clients are assigned a Career Specialist, who links clients with potential employers. In addition, clients are provided with other services as needed. One such service required by many clients is counseling.

“Many need counseling to avoid being depressed and to stay optimistic,” social worker Steve Zegel said. “They might have a job

One year ago, the American dream was out of sight for Steve Wilkins. He was unemployed, had no education beyond high school and lived with his aunt on the Illinois side of St. Louis. Steve signed up for Illinois’ food stamp program. One condition of this program is that those who are able must attempt to find work. That’s how Steve found himself at Employment Connection.

Every year, over 1,500 of St. Louis’ unemployed find their way to Employment Connection. This nonprofit organization helps those struggling to work find and keep a job. While Employment Connection clients range from ex-offenders to women on welfare, most have one thing in common: the vast majority of the clients have no high school or college diploma.

Steve says the reason he didn’t further his education after a high school was because of his involvement in a gang. At that time, his own indifference to education, reinforced by other gang members, stopped him from continuing on to college. Now, Steve understands the value of an education and strongly encourages teenagers to continue their education after high school.

“A little education can go a long way,” Steve said. “Without the proper education, you’ll be working at a hamburger stand.”

Since the economic crash in 2008, Employment Connection has had more people come to them for help; however, due to a focus on quality instead of quantity, fewer clients are accepted. The clients that are accepted are one step closer to finding a job. One step closer to achieving the American dream.

“The American dream is just the opportunity to have choice and freedom and being able to go after the pursuit of happiness,” Employment Connection representative Jonathan Walz said. “With the economy being the way it is, you almost have to have a perfect pass in education to find an entry level position.”

Walz believes that in these economic times, the American dream is becoming harder to obtain. He cites the number of foreclosures, which are topping 8,000 a month nationwide, as proof that people are drifting further from achieving the American dream.

“The American dream is based on the idea of having things and being able to go after things. There are a lot of people now that are not even able to try to get the American dream,” Walz said. “The American dream is crumbling.”

At Employment Connection, they attempt to revive this crumbling dream. Here, clients get one step closer to achieving this dream by finding employment.

“We assist people with the American dream by helping them get on their feet and pointing them in the correct direction with the hope that they’ll find a job,” Walz said.

The first step at Employment Connection in achieving the dream is World of Work (WOW) training. This four day program instructs job seekers on topics such as interviewing, creating resumes and managing finances. After completing this program, clients are assigned a Career Specialist, who links clients with potential employers. In addition, clients are provided with other services as needed. One such service required by many clients is counseling.

“Many need counseling to avoid being depressed and to stay optimistic,” social worker Steve Zegel said. “They might have a job interview, they’re excited, but they think ‘Well, they’re not going to call me back.’ “

According the Zegel, the counseling services provided by Employment Connection are extremely successful. In addition to helping clients stay optimistic during the job search, counseling helps clients recover from past experiences such as homelessness, military service and time in prison. With these issues taken care of, clients can fully focus on finding and keeping a job.

“It can be very difficult to do well under certain circumstances,” Zegel said. “We provide the psychosocial support to help them keep the job. The clients that participate in our program are usually very successful.”

In addition to counseling, Employment Connection provides a multitude of other services, such as housing, food and transportation, all designed to get clients back on track to obtaining their American Dream. Steve was provided with donated suits to wear on job interviews and computer access to email potential employers.

“There are other issues that come with unemployment,” Walz said. “If we can take care of those other issues, then our clients are focused on finding and keeping a job.”

Even with the help of agencies such as Employment Connection, finding a job is still a challenge. Out of the 1,030 clients that completed the WOW program in 2010, 440 found a job.

“Certain individuals aren’t ready to do what it takes,” Walz said. “It’s a struggle. If you aren’t ready to meet that challenge, you won’t succeed, but we don’t give up on anybody. We work as hard as we can.”

For Steve, Employment Connection changed his life. His hard work during his training caused Employment Connection to offer him a position at their offices as a maintenance worker.  He is now close to completing a degree in Computer Information Systems, and he realizes that getting a higher education is something he should have done a long time ago.

“I kick myself every morning,” Steve said. “When my back aches and my knees ache, I regret not furthering my education. I now have to do hard, strenuous labor I might not have to do if I’d furthered my education.”

Once he completes his degree, Steve hopes to be promoted. Even without a promotion, he says he will always be grateful to Employment Connection for helping him achieve the American dream.

“How can you describe a 180 degree turn?” Steve said. “I was really struggling, trying to make ends meet. Now, I’m able to maintain my own lifestyle without government assistance. It’s been a blessed experience for me.”