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Jacob’s Ladder gears clients for jobs

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Johnny Day

Johnny Day

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Each year, 600 people looking for work that pays a living wage enroll in job-readiness programs offered by Jacob’s Ladder Job Center in Charlotte.

Among those who graduate from the four-week programs, which are offered 10 times a year, just over 70 percent find jobs.

Still, the waiting list of people wanting to enroll in the programs has hundreds of names on it, and has swelled in the three years since the U.S. economy collapsed.

To help it keep up with rising demand for services, Jacob’s Ladder earlier this year received a $100,000 grant from the Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina Foundation and sponsored a special event that raised over $100,000 more in three-year pledges.

Now, it is launching its annual fund drive, an effort to raise another $100,000, and on Nov. 3 will hold a “Casino Night” at South End Fieldhouse featuring live and silent auction to raise still more funds.

With the help of those fundraising efforts, Jacob’s Ladder added four staff positions this year, including a director of development, bringing its roster to 10 people.

And it plans to add another key position early in 2012 to work with employers in placing graduates of its job-readiness programs.

Formed in 1998, Jacob’s Ladder operates with an annual budget of $750,000 and an active corps of 170 volunteers.

The agency, which is based at Plaza Presbyterian Church, offers its job-readiness program there and at the Center for Employment Services in West Charlotte. Each four-week session runs Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon, with participants learning how to take job interviews, prepare resumes and dress for jobs.

Volunteers from corporations like Bank of America and Wells Fargo run the participants through multiple mock interviews, and then coach them on how to do better.

“The biggest challenge for our clients in an interview is the question, ‘Tell me about yourself,'” says Johnny Day, interim executive director at Jacob’s Ladder. “We talk about ways to talk about yourself, building self-esteem and attitude.”

Jacob’s Ladder, which gives its clients business clothing that has been donated to the agency, also provides them with an email address and computer room they can use in their job search.

While just over 70 percent of those who graduate from the four-week programs find jobs.

And in one of those programs, which is part of the WorkFirst Program funded by the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services and enrolls 15 people on average per four-week session, 98 percent of graduates find jobs.

A key to the higher success rate for that program is a full-time staff member who works with companies to help place its graduates.

Because of the success of that effort, Jacob’s Ladder plans to add another job developer early next year.

It also plans to add a one-year program to help graduates cope with being employed, working in partnership with their employers to provide mentoring and support on issues such as their attitude toward work or whether they are getting to work on time.

The goal is not just to help clients land a job, Day says, but to help them “get and keep living-wage jobs.”

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