“Don’t be intimidated,” Stafford said Tuesday morning to the dozen or so residents who showed up for Calhoun County Interfaith Ministries’ orientation to the Jobs For Life program. “I know the first time I saw this book I was overwhelmed too, but it reads well and it’s very helpful.”
Stafford hopes by the end of the month to be teaching out of the workbook to a small class, helping its members learn skills to seek, apply for and eventually land jobs.
Jobs For Life is a Christian-based nonprofit organization that works with churches to offer classes for unemployed residents. Martha Vandervoort, the director of Calhoun County Interfaith Ministries, said she was attracted to the program because it offered a more proactive approach in helping the community.
According to the Alabama Department of Labor, Calhoun County had a 6.1 percent jobless rate in December, with more than 3,000 residents receiving unemployment benefits.
On Tuesday, Interfaith welcomed residents to an orientation for the program, allowing them to apply for spots in the eight-week, 16-class course. Vandervoort said the application process is important because the program won’t be successful for residents who can’t commit to attending every class and keeping up with the work.
“It’s a time commitment,” Stafford said. “But if you apply yourself and are able to use this program to get a job, its well worth the commitment.”
Anniston resident Bonnie Burks graduated from the first course held by Interfaith Ministries in the fall. Burks said she took the class mainly to understand the hardships unemployed and underemployed people live with.
“You just get in this funk after being unemployed so long,” Burks said. “But in the course you could see them turn around. It was just very uplifting and gave them something to look forward to within themselves.”
Vandervoort said five students graduated from Interfaith’s first Jobs For Life course. Two of those students found jobs less than a month after completing the class.
“I won’t say it was the job of their dreams, but they found work,” Vandervoort told the potential students at orientation.
Caffey Bester said she saw a flyer for the program at Anniston’s public library Tuesday morning and made her way to First United Methodist Church to find out how she could apply. Bester said she’s been unemployed for four weeks after her seasonal work as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army came to an end. Despite having a degree in social work, Bester said, a felony arrest more than 10 years ago has made landing a permanent job almost impossible.
“I’m a single mom, and I got bills to pay,” Bester said while filling out the Job For Life application. “I’m hoping some good can come out of this.”
Similar programs to Jobs For Life already exist in the community. Operation 1st Ready, Able, Trained Employees, a federally funded program started by the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, opened a location at Quintard Mall in 2011 with a focus on helping find new work for those who lost jobs at the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility and the Anniston Army Depot.
Kelley Bell, the deputy program manager of 1st RATE, said the organization offers a Ready For Work class three days per week, taught by Gadsden State Community College teachers who work with residents on building resumes and job-hunting skills. More than 600 residents have found jobs through 1st RATE, Bell said.
“We’ve had calls looking for executive directors and everything down to custodial work,” Bell said. “We cover everything.”
Tuesday’s orientation was small, but Vandervoort said Interfaith Ministries will host another orientation on Feb. 13 at 10 a.m.
Vandervoort said it’s her dream to have the program expand to several classes in the community running year-round. Ideally, she said, she’d like to see a class started at the Calhoun County Jail and another at Jacksonville State University, highlighting the breadth of residents the classes can help.
“If you have a college degree, you can get something out of this class,” she said. “If you dropped out of high school, you can get something out of this class.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.