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Hope for the holidays: Career Collaborative brings optimism

Posted by Chad O'Connor  December 21, 2013 02:30 AM

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One could view the holidays as a time of compassion fatigue, of maudlin sentimentality that takes our natural propensity for generosity and turns it into a kind of chore. With only a few days until Christmas, many of us are focused on buying last-minute gifts for friends and family, wrapping up our New Year’s plans for work and home, shoveling our cars out of the onslaught of winter cheer that made the Pike an utter monstrosity on Tuesday.

It’s easy to look at this time of year as being almost a social obligation, but as a working professional in the Boston area, I’ve got it good. I’ve got it so good that it’s tempting to ignore the reality of my luck and pretend that everything I have in life I’ve earned. I haven’t. Most has been gently coaxed – from a devoted husband, loving parents, indiscriminate friends. And from generous bosses, as I am incredibly lucky, in a recovering economy, to have a job that I love (at Bullhorn) that helps me pay my bills.

Mine is a story that poses little interest. As a PR professional, however, I pride myself on being able to recognize when a story is worth telling. And as we reflect on what 2013 brought to all of us – good and bad – what stands out most for me is a conversation I had with a young man from Iraq.

First, some background. I volunteer for an organization called Career Collaborative, a Boston non-profit that helps chronically low-income adults find jobs with growth potential. Bullhorn’s CEO Art Papas is on the Board of Directors for the organization, and Bullhorn employees volunteer often. Many of Career Collaborative’s clients are recent immigrants, refugees, or single parents who are trying to provide for their families, and the organization does incredibly good work, bringing in area professionals to coach these individuals on how to conduct themselves in job interviews and optimize their resumes.

Spending a morning as an interview coach at Career Collaborative is an exhilarating experience. You’re not just tossing money at something nebulous – you’re giving of your time and experience to help motivated people do right by themselves and their families. When I spoke to this young man in his twenties, from Iraq, I noticed that he appeared confident but had a soft voice. He was looking for a job in a film studio or multimedia lab, just helping out in any capacity. It’s something any number of film students would consider a good first step to a long career.

Except it wasn’t his first step. He had worked with a documentary filmmaker in Iraq, risking his life every day to capture the carnage there. He told me stories about what he filmed, what he saw, what stuck with him. I was fighting back tears as we spoke and trying to calmly answer his questions about resume formatting. What I really felt was anger – why didn’t this man have a job? Why was he struggling? How could anyone meet him, speak with him, and not want to hire him?

While this young man may have a more celebrated work history than many of his peers at Career Collaborative, the majority of the organization’s clients are hard-working adults who want to do right by themselves and their families, who potentially left successful careers in other countries or are rising up from unforeseen personal circumstances to survive and thrive in Boston.

With the holidays upon us, it’s time to give back to our community. No group – in my opinion – is living up to that promise more fruitfully than the former clients of Career Collaborative who have found a job. Not only are they helping the city of Boston by nature of their gainful employment, but also by motivating those who are still trying to find work.

I spoke with Susan Schiro, founder and president of Career Collaborative, during the week of Thanksgiving. She shared with me a problem she was having. Despite advising them to the contrary, some newly-employed former clients of Career Collaborative were parting with their hard-earned money to contribute to Career Collaborative. Susan was concerned about this; she wanted to ensure that former clients focused on their new careers and used their paychecks to take care of themselves. But for some, the instinct to give back is too great.

“They are capable survivors,” says Susan of her clients, “each of them has already overcome so many problems in their lives. They are truly impressive. The better I get to know them, the more impressed I am with them. One of the things that awes me is their generosity. When they look for jobs, they don’t just look for themselves, they think about each other and help each other.”

At Bullhorn, our business is helping recruiters put people to work. We’ve done research on the effects of long-term unemployment, and being out of work for even six months can be devastating to a jobseeker’s prospects for getting hired. And the devastation goes well beyond that. There’s the financial component, exacerbated for those with families to support, but also the emotional uncertainty. The feeling of being rejected – of not being “good enough” – is damning.

Any of us who has applied for a job and fallen into the trap of never hearing a response knows what that sting feels like. And for people who have no safety net, the effect is compounded.

Susan told me several compelling stories. One former client of Career Collaborative, Roubbins, was hired as a data entry assistant at a Harvard teaching hospital, where he works full time. He’s worked there for three years, and also has a part-time job at Target. Roubbins is incredibly thankful to Career Collaborative. He says the organization helped him establish a rewarding career by teaching him the importance of networking, of being professional, and of displaying compassion to his fellow workers. Roubbins knows what it’s like to not have a job or a paycheck.

“Roubbins has particularly amazed me,” said Susan. “When he got his job, he wrote individual notes to every person on staff, and he did the same thing for his one-, two-, and three-year anniversaries at work. He celebrated his anniversaries by giving us gifts for clients who are looking for jobs - gift cards for movie tickets, Dunkin Donuts, Target, and McDonalds, and phone cards.”

Roubbins’ goal is to help others the way Career Collaborative has helped him. Like many former clients, he lets the group know about new job openings at his company, and in the spirit of the holidays, he recently made a generous donation to Career Collaborative. Susan wants Roubbins and his peers to concentrate on their own needs. “Our clients don’t have much,” she said. “They need the money they earn to support themselves and their families.”

But Roubbins feels that providing gifts that can help his peers remain optimistic and keep their heads up during hard times is worth the sacrifice. Maybe seeing a movie or phoning home can give the clients of Career Collaborative just a little more joy this holiday season, and the courage to keep applying to jobs and continue their interview training.

Other former Career Collaborative clients are volunteering at charities such as Rosie’s Place and expressing their thanks by giving back to the community with time and money. And all the clients who have found jobs now at the very least have the opportunity to provide for their own families, and buy their children and grandchildren Christmas gifts they wouldn’t otherwise have had.

I know it sounds mawkish but speaking to Susan and learning more about how Career Collaborative alumni are giving back to Boston instilled in me an appreciation for what the holidays really mean. Not “ho ho ho” cheerfulness, but understanding how hard work and remaining positive can result in a long-lasting, productive career. Supporting organizations like Career Collaborative mean supporting education, training, and a better life for Bostonians new and old.

It feels like every minute of the day we’re inundated with stories of Facebook apps or not-so-bootstrapped startups that have secured millions of dollars in funding and captured the attention of bored 18-year-olds. Such stories have their place, but not at the expense of unsung heroes. We don’t often hear about people who have no connections to VCs, who work honestly and diligently to provide for their families expecting no giant payout. We don’t often hear about organizations like Career Collaborative and people like Susan Schiro who have made it their life’s work to improve the city of Boston and make it a welcoming, rewarding place for those who have fewer built-in advantages than many of us.

In a city driven by innovation, groups like Career Collaborative inspire all of us to do better. To put our skills and drive to the best possible use. To help those who want to achieve the American Dream. When you gather with family and friends in the coming days, be thankful for your employment if you have it. And if you don’t, take heart in the fact that there are people in this city like Roubbins who care and want to see you succeed.

Here are some more stories from former Career Collaborative clients who are giving back. To volunteer with Career Collaborative, visit: http://careercollaborative.org/

Van: When Career Collaborative met Van, she had completed her training as a medical assistant, but her work experience was in manufacturing. The non-profit helped her get a job at Uphams Corner Health Center. Three years later, Career Collaborative helped her move to Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary where she earns a higher wage and has received an award as Employee of the Month.

Van gives back to Career Collaborative (three generous contributions in the last four years). When Career Collaborative asked her if she can afford to contribute, she said “this is what I want to do.”

Doreen: Doreen was referred to Career Collaborative by Action for Boston Community Development Inc. She came with an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration from her native country, Jamaica; however, after coming to the U.S. she had not held a position in her field. Now she is an office manager at William Gallagher Associates, and has worked there for three years.

Doreen said, “I am happy to have a job during Christmas time so I can get presents for my family.” Last year she asked her employer to make a monetary contribution to Career Collaborative and she subsequently gave them a monetary contribution from her own resources.

Danielia: Danielia had been looking for work for 4 years when she came to Career Collaborative. She was on welfare and needed a job. Shortly after finishing the job-search course, Career Collaborative helped her get a full-time job as an attendant to mentally ill adults at Bay Cove. The non-profit supported her through family tragedies and coached her when she applied for a promotion. Eight months after starting her job, she became an Assistant Site Manager at Bay Cove, supervising 6 people and earning almost double her starting salary.

Danielia said, “Being able to provide Christmas presents is important for my grandchildren who are 5 and 8 years old. It is also important to my 17-year old because he likes to keep up with all the latest trends. Now that my children are set, I am the one that’s giving to others who are in need out on the streets with Rosie’s Place.”

Vinda Souza is a Senior Marketing Manager for Boston-based recruiting software company Bullhorn. Follow Vinda on Twitter @seriousvinda.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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