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Betty Tabron

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Sydney Brooks, Oakley Brooks, Grace Gregory and Eric Gregory, member of the Jubilee Jobs Corporate Advisory Board, at a benefit dinner in April, 2011.

Since 1981, Jubilee Jobs has found employment for 19,000 of metro DC’s most hard-to-place citizens
By Jane Hess Collins

Sydney Brooks, Oakley Brooks, Grace Gregory and Eric Gregory, member of the Jubilee Jobs Corporate Advisory Board, at a benefit dinner in April, 2011.

If you’ve ever searched for a job, you know how important it is to own computer. Imagine how difficult it would be to find work if you didn’t have one. Now imagine trying to find a job if you didn’t have access to a computer, didn’t have a permanent address, and had a felony conviction. These are the clients of Jubilee Jobs.

When I arrived at the office at 8:20 a.m. last week, 40 minutes before Jubilee Jobs opened their doors, there was already a crowd of people waiting outside for their job training appointments. Betty Tabron, the office manager and job counselor at Jubilee Jobs’ new office in Southeast DC, ran a tight ship despite the challenges of running an organization where need always exceeds resources. Emily Thrush, another job counselor who had just returned from vacation, couldn’t log into her computer and she had a long list of clients who needed help applying for jobs online. My computer, loaned to me from Betty, was as sluggish as a 2003 dial-up. There wasn’t enough staff to help all of the clients scheduled that day.

Welcome to nonprofit work.

At 8:55, Betty, Emily and Kenisha Boone, the program assistant, walked into the office I shared with Emily and asked if I would join them in a prayer. We held hands in a circle and bowed our heads. Betty delivered a heartfelt prayer that came straight from the soul. She prayed for the alcoholics, the addicts, the homeless and the job applicants who would visit us that day. It was a surprisingly emotional experience.

What if, regardless of faith, we all started our work mornings with a prayer to serve our clients?

Three applicants were assigned to me during my four-hour volunteer shift. The first needed me to help him apply online for a grocery job. I looked at his life and employment history. It was probably typical of most Jubilee Jobs applicants-GED, some college, work experience as a day laborer, felony conviction for cocaine possession.

That client had cancelled his appointment but more challenges lay ahead. The next applicant needed me to create a resume for him. While there was no set template, the examples Betty showed me were simple-contact information centered at the top, with the objective, experience and education left-justified.

This client’s last job had been with the National Park Service and he had mowed the grass around DC’s major memorials. Within an hour his resume showcased his talent to “maintain the beauty and dignity of the nation’s most prominent monuments, visited by thousands of international visitors each year.”

A little PR and spit-shine never hurt anyone.

He left, beaming, with ten copies of his new resume and with hope for employment that he did not have when he arrived.

My final client also needed help with an online application for an entry-level job. The questions were standard.

Have you ever been convicted for a federal offense?

Yes.

Now we were in new territory. What subsequent questions would this “yes” open up? The conviction was a long time ago. He was not required to state the nature of the conviction and I did not ask.

He volunteered it.

It was for a crime that I never, ever want to know that anyone ever committed. With that and a few parole violations here and there, he had spent 15 years in prison.

We sat shoulder to shoulder for the next hour, both of us staring at the computer screen, as I struggled to answer the employment and felony questions. If the answers were too vague, he might appear to be hiding something and lose his chance for an interview. If the responses were too revealing, he might, again, lose his chance for an interview. Throughout this entire process I deliberately and painfully policed myself, fighting my revulsion at what he had done with wanting him to get his foot in the door for a job he was qualified to perform.

Nearly half of Jubilee Jobs’ placements last year were filled by ex-offenders. Volunteering with them is an emotional passage, and one I encourage you to take. Click here to view their list of needs.

During the metro ride home, I thought again about the Jubilee Jobs’ morning prayer.

It was exactly the right thing to do.

Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her volunteering, writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. You can follow her other Get Out and Give Back volunteer stories on Facebook, Twitter and her website. If you’d like her to volunteer with your organization, contact her here.

Betty Tabron

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