By Ian Newport
It is a sunny morning one day in June of last year. I am on the way to volunteer for the first time at Jubilee Jobs. Their office is just up the road from where I used to live many moons ago in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. I cross Columbia Road and wander along Ontario Road until I see a bronze sign which says “Jubilee Jobs,” right next to the bright blue door of an elegant old row house.
Walking through the door, I enter a remarkable world where a dedicated group of just nine full-time staff, supported by a corps of volunteers, work wonders every day finding jobs for disadvantaged people who have faced many tough challenges in their lives.
It seems incredible that this small organization has been able to find employment for over 26,000 people since it started operations in 1981. For all those people, this blue door has come to symbolize the “sustenance, dignity and hope” that Jubilee Jobs promises. Walk through this door and the sunshine will follow you.
Two hours later, I am standing by a whiteboard in a conference room with twelve men and women seated around a long table. They are a group of job applicants who have signed up with Jubilee Jobs. I am the rookie volunteer, rescued from retirement by my son, Paul, who has worked here for a little over two years as a Job Counselor. My first assignment is to lead a workshop on “Successful Interviewing.”
I am really worried because my knowledge of successful interviewing is coming from a handout that was given to me a couple of days before. I fear our job applicants may know more about the subject than me. I am even more worried because Paul just informed me this morning that I would also be leading a second workshop called “Eyes on the Prize.”
I asked everyone to wear name tags so that we knew each other’s names. I also asked them to briefly introduce themselves. Different people had different interpretations of “brief” but it was a good opening gambit. People loosened up as they listened to the others, some talking very frankly about problems they had struggled with—addiction, homelessness, didn’t finish high school, a single mother and a “returning citizen” which, I learn later, is how Jubilee Jobs describes someone who has been in prison.
I write ten big bullet points on the whiteboard that sort of summarize the handout. We go through those points, discuss some tricky questions that may get asked during the interview and hear about issues that several applicants have experienced in past interviews. The allotted hour extends to one and a half hours and the workshop is, thankfully, quite animated.
As they file out at the end, we shake hands (this was before Coronavirus), some talk a little bit, a few hang back and ask a personal question, and one lady gives me a big hug. That’s when I got hooked. I went off to the next workshop with a different group and now it was me who had my “Eye on the Prize” which is all about setting goals, being focused, persistent and never doubting that you can do something new.
Ten months later, I am in this for life. The essence of volunteering is not so much what you do but the people you work with. I have entitled this blog “The Joy of Volunteering” because that’s what it is—a real joy and privilege to work with our determined and inspiring job applicants; and a real joy and privilege to work with the ever helpful and caring staff and volunteers at Jubilee Jobs.
Volunteering must be addictive because many volunteers have been with Jubilee Jobs for a decade or more. I am thinking of Pat, Mita, Jay, Nonna, Jill, Paul, John, Susan, Charlie and many others who are “regulars.” They run workshops, help applicants with resumes, online applications, mock interviews and undertake many other activities.
And then there are the younger volunteers who come as and when they can and, hopefully, will become “regulars” when they reach our august age. I think people work and volunteer here because it is a blessed opportunity to serve people who are truly courageous and resilient; and who just want to work, to find some stability and win back a life for themselves and their families.
There is also another factor at work. Everyone at Jubilee Jobs has a story, whether you are an applicant, a staff member or a volunteer. Life is all about stories. Tell a story in a workshop and it really sticks. Out of nowhere, someone tells you a story about a mother or uncle or something that happened in a job and you suddenly get a glimpse into another life, another world. Sometimes a story is told that will break your heart but it is told to help others.
Tell a story in an interview and you might just get that job. That’s exactly what happened to one applicant when she related a story about her mother during an interview. So, for me, volunteering and listening to people’s life stories is both enriching and humbling at the same time. We should tell more stories because Jubilee Jobs is a constant narrative of redemption, perseverance and success. Sometimes we stumble but we are always learning, loving and growing.
Helping our applicants in a “lockdown” economy poses many challenges. They are still finding jobs but, as always, they are on the front lines of many types of “essential services” which society just takes for granted. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to our applicants who have overcome so many difficulties and who work every day in tough but critical jobs which are of immense benefit to all of us.
In this unprecedented time, let us remember, honor and properly reward all those who work for sustenance, dignity and hope.