(Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Susan Heehler, case manager for Homeward Bound, discusses clients that the transitional housing agency now shares with St. Joseph the Worker. Heehler said knowing the client’s full history instead of just the job trek side helps the agencies better serve clients. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

The state’s unemployment rate has declined slightly in the last six months and it’s possible that staff at St. Joseph the Worker had a little something to do with it.

The privately-supported organization, which started as an extension of André House 25 years ago, expanded its outreach two months ago. Now, helping clients overcome simple obstacles to securing meaningful work isn’t limited to those who visit the main office on Phoenix’s Human Services Campus. Staff members make themselves available to individuals who are homeless or low-income at six satellite locations such as Homeward Bound, I-HELP and Native American Connections too.

St. Joseph the Worker brings its same job leads plus classes and tips on résumé writing and interview skills to Valley shelters that meet other immediate needs of their clients. Most importantly, staff at both St. Joseph the Worker and the shelters say, the agency brings its resources: work attire, bus passes and gift cards that enable clients to get to an interview or job site and, if hired, able to eat lunch they miss at the shelter.

“When I got here, everybody was talking about what’s the next step for St. Joseph the Worker,” Brent Downs, executive director of St. Joseph the Worker said. He accepted the leadership role just over a year ago.

Some things were certain. A good number of individuals who are homeless in Maricopa County can work, but lack basic resources. There are many local organizations skilled in offering shelter and related resources, but not as qualified to assist in the job search of their clients. St. Joseph the Worker now fills that gap.

“It’s just such an easy mission to take on the road,” Downs said.

Nina Lindsey, director of programs, said some organizations she is reaching out to view the concept as almost too simple. They’re looking for “the catch.”

But there isn’t one, although Lindsey said the organization’s growth has allowed St. Joseph the Worker’s nine-member staff to cast a wider net of volunteers. Most opportunities were once limited to typical office hours. Some of the satellite locations offer chances to work with clients or teach resume or interview classes during the evenings and weekends.

Sarah Turner, whose strengths lie in writing, has been volunteering at St. Joseph the Worker’s main office for the last 18 months. Now she brings her résumé-writing tips to two satellite locations a week.

“I like to work, especially with the women who are struggling,” Turner said.

“Some of the people you run into are like us. They’re one or two paychecks away [from homelessness],” she said.

Turner praised St. Joseph the Worker’s ability to hold workshops in other locations. She recognized that it can be hard for some people to take that next step onto the main campus to get help. She loves building up client confidence, especially when she helps them take a true inventory of their major skills to put on a resume.

“They really were doing a lot more than they expected and they see that on a piece of paper and it becomes part of their confidence,” she said.

Their faces light up as if to say, “I have skills. I have value.”

St. Joseph the Worker’s expanded outreach is proving fruitful. The number of new hires per month has doubled.

One client at Homeward Bound had been looking for caregiver work for at least eight months before taking a workshop from St. Joseph the Worker’s outreach. She realized she had never thought about the employer perspective during her job search. Ten days later, she landed a job.

Need a job?

St. Joseph the Worker is now in its 25th year of helping connecting homeless individuals and other disadvantaged with vital resources to secure meaningful work. Clients secured 577 job placements in the last fiscal year with 63 percent offering benefits.

Volunteers are also welcome to help clients with résumés, interview skills and perform other office tasks. They dedicated some 2,500 hours last year.

For information on becoming a client or volunteering: (602) 223-3467 or www.sjwjobs.org.