Thanks to local employers who give a hand up, 75% of our shelter residents are earning a regular paycheck.
In February 2018, Phillip Iraola passed a urine drug screen, the second step towards his new life. He’d aced Step One the day before: he’d passed his Commercial Driver License exam. The culmination of a four-month training program, the CDL test includes three separate written exams and a road test behind the wheel of a tractor trailer. Pretty good for this smart, well-spoken father of two, who’d entered our shelter for the third time just over a year ago. Iraola had stayed clean after years of addiction which had ravaged his family and relationships. He’d stayed out of prison, too, after a two-year sentence. He’d even earned a degree as a computer technician. But he’d struggled. No trouble, but lots of personal turmoil. Warehouse jobs bored him. Although employed, he never stayed with a company for more than a year. Before he arrived at the shelter, he’d looked into trucking school but couldn’t afford the $5,000 tuition. Enter former Opportunity House case manager Albert Wright, who headed up OppHouse’s first workforce program.
There’s a whole new air around this place. The clients who are working…we can see that they’re feeling better about themselves. These jobs pay a good starting wage, and some offer full benefits after 60 days. — Delia McLendon, VP of shelter and housing
Around the time Iraola resurfaced here, a recruiter had reached out to Wright with an opportunity to train for a CDL license at Berks Technical Institute. But to take that opportunity required a driver’s license. Not many clients here have one. Iraola did. The rest is history. For a year, the 29-year-old drove a tractor trailer for the company that paid his tuition, and earned $172 a day. Now, he can write his own ticket. Currently, he’s applying at BARTA to become a city bus driver. “I thank God for this opportunity,” says Iraola, the father of two. “Now I can provide for my children the way I’m supposed to.” Iraola’s the poster child of what can happen when you decide to change, and when others give you a chance. But because of our new focus on jobs, more than half our clients now work either full or part time.
Dieffenbach Chips in Womelsdorf, JP Mascaro, and Tab Staffing of Cleola are other employers taking a chance on people who are ready to turn their lives around. One female client, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, has held a full-time job for almost a year. Although it doesn’t pay enough for her to move out of the shelter, “I see this job as a stepping stone,” she says, and the job has boosted both her skills and self-confidence. Employers provide transportation to and from their work sites; clients pay a small fee for that service. Regardless of their jobs, when clients get a paycheck, they are required to save or pay rent. Clients with chronic health problems, addictions, or mental illness can’t cope with full- or even part-time employment.
But many men and women land here because they lost their jobs and couldn’t pay their rent. For them, these jobs are a first step to a second chance. “People need an opportunity to work, and someone has to advocate for our clients here,” McLendon says. But the hard work of keeping a job is on the clients. “We tell them, ‘We can’t give you a job. But we can open the door.’”
If you’re an employer who’d like to learn more about hiring our clients, please call Julia VanTine at 610-374-4696, extension 227.