The Orlando Sentinel featured Jobs Partnership in the Sunday, June 5, issue. Missed the print edition? You can catch the story here:
Program blends scripture, job-training
Resume-building, mock interviews — Bible study?
BY KATE SANTICH ORLANDO SENTINEL
Pastor Charles Cooper is recounting the biblical woes of Joseph — betrayed, enslaved, accused of rape and wrongfully imprisoned — to a rapt audience on a Tuesday evening in Winter Garden. Despite all the fodder for bitterness, Cooper notes, Joseph is ultimately vindicated and richly rewarded.
“It is the fact that he doesn’t cheat, he doesn’t lie, he doesn’t steal and he doesn’t bend under the pressure that really elevates him,” the pastor says. “Integrity is a critically important part of what happened to Joseph.”
But Cooper isn’t preaching to parishioners. He’s lecturing to a faith-based workforce-training class. And the goal here isn’t so much about saving souls as it is producing good, reliable employees who’ll have the chance to earn a decent paycheck and change their path in life.
“We welcome everyone. We’re very clear about that,” said Marc Stanakis, founder and president of the nonprofit Jobs Partnership of Florida, which runs the classes. “We’re also very clear that we have content that’s biblically based, so you know what you’re getting into. We’re using principles from the Bible to teach people what employers are looking for — like how to have healthy relationships with the boss or, in this lesson, how do you work with integrity? You show up on time. You don’t steal from the supply closet. You put the right hours on your timecard.”
While the concepts may seem simple — even obvious — many of the other lessons taught in the Jobs Partnership’s free 12-week training course, LifeWorks, are foreign to students who’ve been out of the workforce or stuck in minimum-wage positions for years. Some have never written a resume before. Others lack interviewing skills. And many have no idea what types of good-paying jobs are available to them with a little extra training — or how they can get scholarships to pay for that training.
And as employers complain about a dire shortage of workers with basic skills, the Jobs Partnership of Florida has managed to produce nearly 3,000 graduates since 1999 for jobs with such employers as AdventHealth, Home Depot, UPS and Wells Fargo.
“I’ve stayed home for the last 20 years raising a son with autism,” said Patti Wolstenholme, 62, a Clermont resident who enrolled in spring for the Winter Garden classes. “I mean, I hadn’t done a resume in years, and there have been a lot of changes. They helped me with that. We did mock interviews, which helped me to learn to answer questions and get more comfortable with that process again. And it introduced me to a lot of different employers.”
More than anything, she said, it helped her gain confidence. The program acts as a sort of support network so job-seekers feel someone is rooting for them. Three-quarters of the participants are women; more than half are Black or Hispanic. Many, too, already work part-time jobs, trying to piece together a living. Most have no health insurance and nearly all earn less than $20,000 a year.
“Their idea of looking for a job is, ‘Well, I know Walmart’s hiring’ — or McDonald’s or whatever is closest to them — instead of thinking about what would be a good fit based on their interest and skills,” Stanakis said. “We assess them and use that as a foundation for developing a career plan.”
The Jobs Partnership began two decades ago in large part as a response to the end of entitlement programs — aka welfare — and the need to transition recipients into the workforce. It was then buoyed by President George W. Bush’s 2002 initiative giving religious groups the right to compete for federal funding for programs usually carried out by secular nonprofit organizations.
Stanakis, then an executive in the financial services industry, was recruited to figure out how to get local churches involved as a kind of safety net for people as their welfare checks stopped. Attending a conference in Washington, D.C., he learned about a program in Raleigh, N.C., that was pairing churches and businesses to help the poor.
“I thought, ‘This is amazing,’ ” he said.
With a grant from the state, Stanakis helped to build a network of what is now over 46 business partners and volunteers from some 60 churches. And last year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit raised over $1.5 million in donations and grants, only 5% of it from the government. The largest single source was individual donors.
“It’s giving so many people in our community an opportunity that they would have never had otherwise,” said Yamille Luna, chief operating officer for AdventHealth Winter Garden and a former human resources executive who has worked closely with the Jobs Partnership. “And for us, it’s almost like [the program] is hiring for you.”
The hospital system has employed about 200 graduates over the years, and recently it began recruiting for patient-care technicians — workers who comfort patients and help with the daily tasks of eating, bathing and using the bathroom. In part, the job was created to address the nursing shortage. The Jobs Partnership has surveyed graduates and helped assess those who are interested. An initial list of 70 candidates has been whittled down to 14. Sandra Lentini is among those who made the final cut.
“Now I am just waiting to hear if I am hired,” said Lentini, 48, a former stay-at-home mom from Chile who has returned to the workforce after a divorce. “I love to take care of people, but I never knew that it could be a job.”
In the program, coaches helped her figure out what sort of work gave her a sense of purpose. They helped her create a resume and learn interviewing skills. And they taught her how to resolve conflicts and manage her finances once she has a steady income.
“I had 100% attendance because I didn’t want to miss anything,” she said. “They were really, really good people, and you can see how important [their faith] is to them. I liked that.”
If she’s hired, Lentini also will have the chance to advance. AdventHealth will cover tuition for nursing school, Luna said. In fact, the Jobs Partnership is able to help connect students with a range of advanced training courses paid for by local sponsors and employers.
“It’s really a long-term fix in our low-wage economy,” Stanakis said. “Our donors don’t want to see temporary assistance. They want to see changed lives. And the same for our participants. They don’t want handouts; they want to make it on their own.”