I'm part of a team of three full-time and one part-timer at Flanner House, whose job title is a little unusual: relationship manager. We don't consider ourselves "case managers," because we have long-term relationships with people, not with "cases."
Our goal is to help people earn more money, keep more of what they earn and even move up the economic ladder.
Right now, I'm working with about 40 families. I know that some people don't understand why anyone who wants to work is not working because they know there are jobs available.
Here are four things I wish more people knew about why it's not so simple for everyone who is out of work to quickly get a job.
1. Having reliable transportation can be a big barrier to going to work. Many don't have a car. Others may have a car, but they cannot afford to fill up the gas tank. And then others may live near a bus, but bus service might not extend to where the job is.
2. The application process itself can be a stumbling block. In recent years, the very act of filling an application has changed dramatically. Everything is online. Some places even refuse to accept a paper application. And while we might be able to get people in front of a computer at a library or in a community center, sometimes they don't have a clue how to use a computer, so job seekers must first learn how to set up email, learn word processing software and other programs before they can even begin the job search.
3. Child care may be either inadequate or unaffordable. If your job starts at 6 a.m. and you can't get child care until 7 a.m., that can be a show stopper. If you can find child care that's adequate, you might not be able to afford it. And then there's the issue of timing. In order to get child care subsidies, you must already have a job. But landing a job when you don't already have a way to pay for child care is another challenge our job seekers face.
4. Many have lost confidence in themselves and in their own ability to turn bad circumstances around. I remember one young single mom with three boys who had completed our program and was looking for housing. She had been told "no" so many times, she simply did not believe she could get a "yes." I told her she needed to sell herself. She needed to explain how she completed the program and was a responsible citizen. She needed to believe she could make the changes in her life that she wanted. Within a week, she found housing that was affordable and safe.
Helping people get new skills takes time, but in some ways it is the easy part of being a relationship manager. What's not so easy is helping them believe in their own potential. We encourage them to "think about what you are thinking about."
We are grateful for the support we get from United Way and people who contribute to it, because it helps us teach the hard skills people need to get a job. More importantly, it allows us to help our neighbors realize that our community is behind them, and it's within their power to make big changes in their own lives.
–Beth McClellan, relationship manager, Flanner House of Indianapolis