How to Prevail in a tough job market

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

After 16 years as a full-time worker at a Chicago-based company, last September when a family member fell seriously ill, Erwin, 47, suddenly resigned from his job to become a full-time caregiver.

When that ended, he found his life turned upside down.

"It was a very uncomfortable moment to be in, and when you get to my age as well, and with the economy being as it is, since I had never had to go through anything like this before, having to find a job without having one first, all I could think of was to start networking with a few friends," recalls the Oak Park resident.

But networking wasn't enough, and in the meantime he had no income and his utility bills were past due. In desperation, he sought out hardship assistance from agency to agency … until he called Prevail (formerly Walk-in Ministry). He wasn't refused.

"The short story is that Prevail was able to help me get a payment arrangement to those utilities and that pretty much took care of that," he says.

After that, he was asked if he needed emergency food assistance and whether he was interested in participating in the agency's Job Readiness Program and Financial Literacy Program.

The latter is designed to help individuals achieve financial stability through learning about basic budgeting and debt management via group and one-on-one financial counseling. Both back-to-work initiatives utilize qualified community volunteers who are highly skilled in specific sectors of the job market.

"At first I was apprehensive because, you know, the pride," Erwin says. "But then I was in these circumstances and I thought, sure, why not?"

Neighbors help neighbors help themselves

Annually, from Oak Park and its surrounding communities, between 800 and 1,000 individuals seek out Prevail "to stem the bleeding of their emergency," says Cristy Harris, executive director.

"We are a compassionate advocate for those neighbors facing financial crisis and seeking a path to stability," Harris says. "We provide immediate response to individuals and families in financial crisis and offer them a range of supportive services designed to help them get back on their feet again."

Erwin, she says, is absolutely representative of some of the individuals they serve, the ones who only need a little help to brush up a resume and cover letter to land a new job.

However, Prevail also assists many individuals who have been out of work for a long time, who may have some kind of issue in their background and now need other supports.

"We have found that there is a wide gamut of unemployed people we see now, from individuals who barely have an eighth-grade education to people who have masters and PhDs, because everyone is having a hard time being employed right now," says Harris.

Now back in a full-time job again, Erwin says he is relieved to know he was still employable. He just needed a break and some job-hunting help.

"I never thought I would be needing this kind of service, but it only takes one situation in life to change your status," Erwin says. "I am just grateful knowing that I could come to one place and get all the service I needed."

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