When I completed my observation at NDSM, the guy I worked with told me said I should plan on bringing a book, because I probably wouldn’t be too busy. So, as I got my gear together Friday morning, I tossed Half Broke Horses in my bag and planned on getting started on it.
I left work at 12:00 and I headed to NDSM, which is located in North Dallas pretty close to Tom’s office and very near where the majority of his clients live. It’s a sad area – not rough like Pleasant Grove, but not beautiful like the area we live in. NDSM is in the warehouse district, and you wouldn’t know it was there unless you were looking for it.
I walked in, walked straight back to the director’s office, introduced myself as one of the JLD volunteers, and told her I was there to be a job counselor and to fill out the volunteer form. She smiled, said I could worry about the volunteer form later, and told me to check and see if the morning shift counselor was still there. He could get me started. I was a little nervous, but she smiled easily, and I felt welcome. Little things like that help. After finding out that the morning guy was gone, I headed back to the check in desk, introduced myself, and said I would be in my office if anyone needed me. I was going to work on getting acquainted with the procedure.
Before I could head to my office, one of the men helping with vision screenings (they really do it all here – it’s amazing!) introduced me to a man who would want to see me as soon as they processed his file. I introduced myself and headed to my office.
I spent the first 45 minutes getting acquainted with a host of websites and printing out jobs that would probably be applicable to our client base, so I had something to offer them. One of the counselors interrupted my research to bring me a 65 year old woman. As she sat down across from me, I found myself wanting to help her in the best possible way I could. This woman, whatever her situation may be, has value and skills, and as I put a face with her name, I suddenly became acquainted with the face of unemployment.
She’s 65, and she wants to work. Beyond that, she has to work. She told me she has always worked as a care-taker. Now, she’s down to 1 day a week, so she needs something else to supplement her income. I started researching positions in care-taking. As I printed them out and discussed her options with her, I could read her – she liked caring for kids more than older people. She pulled out her CPR certification to show me that she was, indeed, qualified to take care of people. She was grateful for the recommendations and told me she was going to the library to print a map of how to get to one of the care-taking agencies I had recommended.
My next client was also an older woman. As I asked her about her past, she told me she had worked in dry cleaning for many, many, many years doing ironing. She now has a medical condition that prevents her from being around the chemicals, so she had to find something else. The trouble is, that’s the only thing she knew. So, we looked. She said she liked doing domestic things like that – it was just, the chemicals… so I gave her a few leads, and she told me where she would try first, because it was closer to her, and she didn’t have a car.
The third man I talked to was a younger man, not necessarily that much older than I. He had worked at Bank of America for 8 years before being laid off. He had moved to Texas to pursue his career, and now he’s faced with the possibility of having to go back home. He doesn’t want to – he likes Texas and he’s made his home here. He told me about going on interviews, but he didn’t know what he was doing wrong. We talked about interviewing techniques, thank you notes, and applying in person with a firm handshake to the manager. He took in every word and thanked me profusely for my time.
The next man I talked to was a specialty chef. His specialty is working in senior centers, preparing dietary meals for the elderly. He was laid off, but his friend was hired by another center in Frisco. He thought he could get him a job, but the man needed to come out for an interview. The retirement home isn’t on the DART line. He can get to Frisco on one line, but it’s 15 miles off, and the buses don’t run that far. Another place in Richardson had called him, but again, he couldn’t get to his interview – he didn’t have any gas in his car and he hasn’t been able to drive it because he has no money. So, despite being told during my observation that I would rarely give them out, I decided to give him a gas voucher. I told him to get to his interviews. He almost cried out of joy – he left my office, laughing, smiling and saying, “I know I can get myself a job now! I’m gonna get myself a job!” I. Was. Humbled.
My final client of the day was a woman who was probably in her early 40s. She had her very pregnant teenage daughter with her and my heart just ached. A quick scan of her file told me this woman has been through a lot. As she asked me for help, she started to cry. She told me about leaving her husband and her business behind. She told me about moving to Dallas to start over on her own with her two daughters, but not being able to find a job. She spoke English impeccably well. I watched her cry when she read that a CSR position at a large gym required a GED or high school diploma – she didn’t have either one. Life had gotten in the way, and she hadn’t finished her GED. Talking to her, I would have never believed she hadn’t finished school. She was that well spoken. She told me about finding out two days before that she was being evicted and her daughter was due in 2 weeks. And my heart hurt for her and her situation. I printed out a lot of jobs for her and I talked to her about what to do and how to get in front of people. I talked to her about some of the legalities of eviction. I tried to help her in the best way I could, knowing all the while I couldn’t fix her situation, but desperately wishing I could do more. It was hard for me to look at her teenage daughter and realize that the girl may give birth in a shelter (if she’s that lucky) – that she won’t have a home to bring her baby home to after he/she is born. That’s hard to swallow. I told her mother that I hoped I wouldn’t see her again, because it would mean she had found a job… and I told her to get her GED when the dust settled, because she shouldn’t give anyone a reason to write her off of a potential job opening – she had a lot going for her. There’s no reason anyone shouldn’t hire her.
No one I spoke to on Friday was looking for a hand-out. They were there because they wanted to do something about their situation. They didn’t come looking for answers, they came to ask questions. I was truly humbled. I think it’s easy for people to sit at home (or on Facebook or on the news) and demonize those on welfare or those on unemployment, but the truth is, there is a new face of poverty. There are everyday Americans who want to work but can’t find a job. “It’s the economy, stupid.” You can criticize people’s choices, their education (or lack thereof), or blame it on a broken system, but no matter which way you choose to look at it, it doesn’t make these people not exist. I looked in their eyes – when they would look at me – and I could feel their shame and humiliation. They. Weren’t. Looking. For. Handouts. They were looking for opportunities.
If you saw the same article I did a few weeks ago, they talked about how there is an extremely high percentage of Americans who couldn’t come up with $1000 in the event of an emergency situation, and there is an even larger percentage who couldn’t come up with $2000. That means that in one month, MANY people you know could find themselves in the same situation as the people I tried to help on Friday if they lost their job. It’s not a “poor thing”, a “minority thing”, a “dumb people thing”, an “irresponsible people thing”, or an “uneducated thing”… And by putting a label on why they got there – are we going to change anything? It’s the world in which we live… and the only way we’re going to bring ourselves out of it is by helping and educating others.
I hope that my time makes a difference as these go out into the harsh world of the USA this week.