Orlando program combines scriptures and professional training

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Pastor Charles Cooper recounts the biblical woes of Joseph – betrayed, enslaved, accused of rape and wrongfully imprisoned – to a thrilled audience on a Tuesday night in Winter Garden. Despite all the fodder for bitterness, Cooper notes, Joseph is ultimately vindicated and richly rewarded.

“It’s the fact that he doesn’t cheat, lie, steal, or bend under pressure that really uplifts him,” the pastor says. “Integrity is an extremely important part of what happened to Joseph.”

But Cooper does not preach to parishioners. He lectures to a faith-based workforce training class. And the goal here is not so much to save souls as to produce good reliable employees who will have the chance to earn a living wage 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 courses. “We’re also very clear that we have Bible-based content, so you know what you’re getting into. We use Bible principles to teach people what employers look for – like how to have a healthy relationship 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 correct hours on your time card.

While the concepts may seem simple, even obvious, many other lessons taught in the Partnership for Jobs’ free 12-week training course, LifeWorks, are foreign to students who have been absent from the workforce or stuck in minimum wage jobs for years. .

Some have never written a resume before. Others lack maintenance skills. And many have no idea what kinds of well-paying jobs are available to them with a little extra training – or how they can get scholarships to pay for that training.

And while employers complain of a severe shortage of workers with basic skills, the Jobs Partnership of Florida has managed to produce nearly 3,000 graduates since 1999 for jobs with employers such as AdventHealth, Home Depot, UPS and Wells Fargo.

“I’ve stayed home for the past 20 years raising an autistic son,” said Patti Wolstenholme, 62, a Clermont resident who signed up for Winter Garden classes in the spring. “I mean, I hadn’t done a resume in years, and there’s been a lot of changes. They helped me with that. We did mock interviews, which helped me learn how to answer questions and feel more comfortable with the process again. And it introduced me to a lot of different employers.

More than anything, she says, it helped her gain confidence. The program acts as a sort of support network so that job seekers feel that someone has their back. Three quarters of the participants are women; more than half are black or Hispanic.

Many too are already working part-time, trying to earn a living. Most don’t have health insurance, and almost all earn less than $20,000 a year.

“Their idea of ​​looking for a job is, ‘Well, I know hiring Walmart’ – or McDonald’s or whatever’s closest to them – instead of thinking about what would be best based on their interests and skills,” Stanakis said. “We assess them and use that as the basis for developing a career plan.”

The Jobs Partnership was born more than two decades ago, largely in response to the end of benefit programs — a.k.a social assistance — and the need to transition recipients into the labor market. It was later bolstered by President George W. Bush’s 2002 initiative giving religious groups the right to compete for federal funding for programs typically run by secular, nonprofit organizations.

Stanakis, then an executive in the financial services industry, was recruited to figure out how to involve local churches as a sort of safety net for people as their welfare checks dried up. While at a conference in Washington, DC, he heard about a program in Raleigh, North Carolina that combined churches and businesses to help the poor.

“I was like, ‘This is amazing,'” he said.

With a state grant, Stanakis helped build a network of what now numbers more than 46 business partners and volunteers from some 60 churches.

And last year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit raised more than $1.5 million in donations and grants, only 5% of that from the government. The largest single source was individual donors.

“It gives so many people in our community an opportunity they otherwise never would have had,” said Yamille Luna, chief operating officer of AdventHealth Winter Garden and former human resources manager who worked closely with the Jobs Partnership. “And for us, it’s almost like [the program] recruits for you.

The hospital system has employed around 200 graduates over the years and recently began hiring patient care technicians – workers who comfort patients and help them with the daily tasks of eating, bathing and using the room. of bath. In part, the job was created to address the shortage of nurses.

The Jobs Partnership has surveyed graduates and helped assess those who are interested. An initial list of 70 candidates was reduced to 14.

Sandra Lentini is one of those who did the final editing.

“Now I’m just waiting to find out if I get hired,” said Lentini, 48, a former stay-at-home mom from Chile who returned to the workforce after a divorce. “I love taking care of people, but I didn’t know it could be a job.”

In the program, the coaches helped her figure out what kind of work gave her meaning. They helped her create a resume and learn interview skills. And they taught her how to resolve conflicts and manage her finances once she has a stable 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 [their faith] is theirs. I liked that.”

If hired, Lentini will also have the opportunity to advance. AdventHealth will cover tuition for nursing school, Luna said.

In fact, the Jobs Partnership is able to help connect students to a range of advanced training courses paid for by local sponsors and employers.

“It’s really a long-term solution in our low-wage economy,” Stanakis said. “Our donors don’t want to see temporary assistance. They want to see lives changed. And the same for our participants. They don’t want alms; they want to do it themselves.

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