We all seek meaning in the work we do, but what if you’re struggling to find a job in the first place? For some, that means turning to America Works. Called a “company with a conscience,” this employment agency offers a network of work-readiness and job-placement programs to clients including veterans, people with disabilities, the formerly incarcerated and the homeless. Their mission: to help lift people from all backgrounds out of poverty, by giving them the skills they need to support themselves.
Since it was founded in 1984, America Works has helped more than 700,000 people find, and keep, meaningful employment. Here are some of their stories.
A FIRST OPPORTUNITY
When Jaquell Langley showed up at the America Works office in the Bronx last April, he was dressed for success in a full suit.
“His motivation was already there,” says Abigail Kelly, a program manager at America Works of New York (AWNY). “We didn’t have to teach it.”
The 24-year-old was eager to land a job, yet a significant speech impediment and slight cognitive delay meant Langley was struggling to get noticed by potential employers.
Still, he was determined. Each day, when the America Works office opened at 8:30 a.m., there was Langley, suited up and waiting outside the front door. He immersed himself in employment skills workshops and sat through mock interviews. Realizing Langley found it harder to speak when he was nervous, the staff worked on upping his confidence — chatting him up in the halls and encouraging him to perform in a poetry slam.
When Langley first interviewed for a part-time greeter position with a pharmacy chain, he didn’t get the gig. “But he didn’t mope,” says Kelly. “He kept showing up to our office, ready to work.”
AWNY staff arranged for Langley to re-interview for the greeter position a few weeks later, and this time, he was hired.
“We ring a bell in our office when someone gets a job, and Jaquell ran to ring it,” Kelly says. “He made the rounds, shaking hands and giving high fives like the mayor.”
Langley has since been promoted to full-time cashier and is saving money for his first apartment.
“Too many in life take the easy way out, refusing to even try to push themselves,” says Kelly. “Jaquell chose a different path, and pushed to have as normal a life as he could.”
A SECOND ACT
30 years. That’s how long Marvin Daniel worked as an operations manager in the banking industry. Yet last year, when his company decided to move out of New York State, Daniel found himself out of work.
The good news was that Daniel, 59, had glowing references and a solid resume. “The only thing holding him back was a lack of opportunity,” says Sami Martin, his career advisor at AWNY.
Martin enrolled Daniel in classes to get him up to speed on commonly used computer programs and website design. She arranged for him to meet with America Works’ career agents, who have connections to companies looking to hire, and encouraged Daniel to pursue leadership training.
Within a few months, Daniel landed a position at a bank. He’s about to celebrate his one-year anniversary.
“I love being a person’s cheerleader,” says Martin. Of the three years she’s been at America Works, she says, “I couldn’t tell you how many clients I have helped, but I can say that they’ve all been special to me.”
A CHANCE TO START OVER
At first, Melvin Taylor was reluctant to visit America Works. In other employment programs, he’d faced rejection due to his criminal background. But a few months earlier, he’d lost his job due to alcohol abuse and had found himself living in a homeless shelter.
When a public assistance agency referred the older gentleman to America Works’ Staten Island office, his desire to find a job led him to show up.
Kaitlyn Squire, a career advisor for AWNY, helped Taylor get some professional clothes, revamp his resume and hone his interview skills.
“From the get-go I really clicked with him,” she says. “Melvin has such a genuine personality and a smile that touched my heart.”
Taylor told Squire that he would work in any field, just so long as someone would take a chance on him.
When a string of job interviews led nowhere, Squire had an idea. She contacted the cafe where she used to work. Her ex-manager there agreed to interview Taylor for a part-time dishwasher position.
“They loved him and hired him on the spot,” Squire says.
Fast forward a year and Taylor has graduated to a full-time position. He was recently named Employee of the Month, and came back to America Works to show Squire his certificate.
“I was just a helping hand. Melvin did his own work,” says Squire. “Our program is not a fix-all, but clients who really take what we offer and apply it can do amazing things.”