After moving from Wilkes Barre, Pa., to be closer to her son and attempting to search for a job in the midst of COVID-19, Catherine B. felt completely alone and as if she was slowly going down a black hole.
Working in the management and food service industry for quite some time, she was aiming to find a job in a similar field. She had searched and applied to several restaurant management positions, but found herself running into obstacles she struggled to overcome.
“I was having some success to a degree, I went on 4 to 5 interviews, but no luck. I felt the age discrimination,” she said.
By the luck of the draw, and a tiny blurb in her local newspaper regarding another woman who used JEVS Career Strategies program to find a job, she immediately went on the website in search of help.
“I was desperate for help, I was looking for somebody to help me,” she said.
Catherine made use of the career services JEVS provides. She worked on her cover letter, elevator speech, networking skills, and created a business plan for job searching. During this time, she was encouraged to branch out and began investigating what jobs were offered, outside of the industry she was familiar with.
“I knew I wanted to expand the scope of my search, but I didn’t know how to do that,” she said. “They allowed me to take advantage of the services with no costs, which was huge because I was unemployed for four months.”
Catherine’s counselor at JEVS noticed her compatibility with customer service and recommended looking into a contact tracing job. Her willingness to explore new options gave her confidence in signing up for this position and applying. After mock trial interviews provided by JEVS, Catherine was able to get her contact tracing certification. Thanks to JEVS and Catherine’s determination, she felt prepared to take on this new role.
“Catherine, your resilience is your superpower,” said Peggy Truitt, program director of JEVS Career Strategies.
“I have been on the job for several weeks. it’s perfect, I love it. I’m working out of my apartment, I’m learning new stuff and meeting new people,” she said. “I’ve learned through this process that you just have to ask for help sometimes.”
For those who have felt the heavy stress that unemployment brings, Catherine stands as an example that career readiness services can provide new job options and a promising future.
The idea of applying to college is scary for any high school student, and even more difficult when the resources and opportunities are lesser given the pandemic, recession and other factors. For many, the extra push and support is essential to helping individuals tackle the first step in their college careers.
With the help of JEVS Human Services board member Bob Cohen—along with JEVS education consultant Sue Bilsky and instructor Yavuz Orbey—the Dorothy M. Cohen College Prep Program at Central High School has been aiding juniors and seniors who come from these situations in the college admissions process for the last eight years.
Originally an SAT class, this program has transitioned into something bigger, that offers more. With this program students are able to get guidance on developing their college lists, working on their college essay, navigating through the Common Application most universities accept, searching for scholarships and applying for financial aid by completing the FAFSA.
“We really take an interest in the whole process, not just the SAT process,” Sue Bilsky said.
Like most students in the year of 2020, virtual learning has slowly become normalized. This environment has caused many students difficulties in progressing through their education. Central High School students are all remote for the 2020-21 school year, and many students within this program have felt defeated because the college admission process has changed rapidly due to the pandemic.
“The last thing they want to do after a full day of online school is come back on the computer for an SAT class,” Sue Bilsky said.
Despite this feeling, these same students decided not to give up and continue with this program even on an online platform. This year, the program consists of 31 students. Meeting online has given the students the flexibility to expand the times they can meet per week.
The students that attend this course are really the ones that make the difference. They are motivated, appreciative, and with the help of Bob Cohen and his push to provide them even more resources they continue to strive and develop as young adults.
What makes this unique from other SAT Prep Programs is that it provides individualized and unlimited help throughout the college admissions and financial aid processes. The SAT instructor and consultant monitor and support the students’ progress toward their individual goals. All these services are provided at no cost.
One student in particular stood out to Sue during this fall’s program. She shared with us how she was able to provide critical resources that would not have been available to him without this program.
“I have been advising a student this year who had concerns about applying to a school early decision, knowing he would have to enroll if accepted. He had doubts about what his financial aid package would be and if his family could afford tuition. Through my contacts at the college where he was applying I was able to give him an idea of what his financial aid package would be and how that would impact his commitment if accepted. I have also helped him with his applications and college essays through approximately 30 emails/Zoom meetings,” Sue said. “He told me without my help ‘my head would explode.’”
All the small and big successes make Sue’s job all the better. Getting to help these kids strengthen their application profile and push for their college goals gives her immense pride in her work.
The Dorothy M. Cohen College Prep Program has truly given these Central High School students hope and passion to work towards getting to college. With the help of Bob Cohen and JEVS staff—and despite the obstacles COVID-19 has brought—these seniors and juniors are able to feel accomplished and look forward to their futures.
by Madison Baer, JEVS intern & senior communications major at La Salle University
Stephanie Lees worked in the food and beverage industry selling wine and spirits before the coronavirus pandemic began.
The former manager at Butcher and Singer in Center City closed the restaurant the night before the onset of citywide shutdowns in March. She came back a few days later to lock dozens of bottles of expensive alcohol in the underground vault in case there was a break-in.
When it became clear the restaurant would not be opening again soon, she started looking for another job and studying for an advanced wine certification, but she couldn’t focus.
“It just seemed kind of stupid, with everything going on,” she said. “It was the first time in the last eight years that I wasn’t, like, eating it up and super excited about it.”
She lived alone in Old City, and the days of isolation blurred together. She started practicing Judaism with more intention, keeping kosher and thinking about finding a career that would make a difference in people’s lives. Her grandmother, who founded the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (now JDRF), had always been an inspiration to her. She applied and was accepted to master’s programs in counseling at Rosemont College and La Salle University.
Lees is one of thousands of professionals who have made job switches or career changes during the economic upheaval of the past eight months. Whether due to layoffs, furloughs or a change in perspective brought about by a national crisis, Jewish professionals and organizations are pivoting to adapt to a new job market.
Jewish religious centers, nonprofits and cultural organizations have not been immune from rounds of pandemic-induced layoffs and furloughs. Ilana Aisen, CEO of JPRO Network, said organizations that relied on earned revenue have been the hardest hit.
“JCCs were under extraordinary stress almost immediately. So were synagogues, which rely on membership dues around High Holiday times,” she explained.
To help those coping with job loss, the Jewish Federations of North America partnered with JPRO Network to create Rise, a career services program for professionals in the American and Canadian Jewish world.
“We just felt it critical, given our mission and our mandate, to support people who go through the process of losing a job, which is often practically and emotionally shattering, and to make sure that our colleagues would land on their feet,” Aisen said.
Rise connects furloughed and out-of-work professionals with career coaches, financial information and mental health resources to build resilience.
“For people who work in the Jewish community, they’re here because they’re passionate about the mission, they love the work,” she said. “For many of us, it’s so deeply personal, and people go through all the stages of grieving because this is a major loss.”
While the goal is to keep as many professionals working in the Jewish world as possible, Rise also helps them find placements in other areas with the hope of keeping them in contact with other Jewish professionals until the economy improves.
JEVS Human Services has partnered with Rise to offer career counseling to clients who worked in the Jewish world. They have also been working with clients from various backgrounds and industries who need to make a job or career change during the pandemic.
Peggy Truitt, director of career strategies, noted that people with higher education who have been able to work from home have been less drastically impacted by job loss than those in the hospitality, retail and restaurant industries. Many of those job losses are becoming permanent as businesses are forced to close, and there is no way to know if they will ever come back.
“We know that so many restaurants have closed that there will be a lot less opportunity for those positions,” Truitt said.
Women across the economic spectrum are also more vulnerable to job loss due to the lack of available child care from schools and day care centers.
“Taking on the whole home front has been really impactful to their careers,” she said.
Truitt said JEVS career counselors work to help people identify whether they need a job change or want to change careers entirely. If the latter is necessary, they identify transferable skills, study the competition in other fields and assist with networking and rebranding.
People who worked in restaurants, for example, typically have excellent customer service skills and sales skills. Truitt said JEVS has helped these clients transfer to e-commerce, an industry that has boomed during the pandemic.
JEVS client Kathy Blum worked as a restaurant manager in the Scranton area for over 30 years before she moved to Northeast Philadelphia to be closer to family. At 62, she struggled to find another job due to her age, and she had no idea how to approach her job search when the pandemic hit.
“I was really drowning,” she said.
With the help of JEVS career counselor Jackie Savoy, she found a job working remotely as a contact tracer for Insight Global, which contracts with Pennsylvania’s state government. She plans to work there until the pandemic ends and then pivot into another customer service role.
Interest in trades like carpentry and plumbing is also booming among those looking to pivot into pandemic-proof fields. Orleans Technical College, the trade school run by JEVS, has seen a spike in enrollment and wait lists.
“We all live in houses that need repair and work in buildings that need maintenance,” said Debbie Bello, director of admissions.
Class size has decreased to accommodate social distancing guidelines, but students are still able to learn how to build an entire two-story house on the premises.
After dining restrictions were lifted, Lees got another job working at White Dog Cafe in University City, but helping people find escapism in dining out during a national crisis no longer felt meaningful.
“It showed me that I was very much wanting to change careers, because I could have stayed and could have grown with the company and continued in that path, but given a whole handful of things made the decision to leave,” she said. She quit her job during Sukkot and is now a full time graduate student at Rosemont College.
Lees estimates her master’s in counseling will take two years to complete. She hopes to work with people who have experienced domestic violence and family trauma once she is qualified.
At age 62, Catherine Blum moved to Northeast Philadelphia for the first time, settling down in Bustleton to be closer to her family. Before moving from Scranton last December she worked 50-hour weeks in restaurant management, but her job search here yielded no results.
Just a few months later COVID-19 caused a shutdown and temporarily closed many restaurants, leaving her feeling like she was stuck in a fruitless job search and without any close friends in the area. Then she picked up a paper and came across something that sent her down a different path.
“I picked up a copy of theNortheast Timesto figure out ways to get involved in the area, and I saw an ad for JEVS,” she said.
She learned about JEVS Career Strategies, which provides professional help to anyone above the age of 18 for all occupations and industries. The program, based out of Orleans Technical College at 2770 Red Lion Road, helps improve professional skills from the job search to the interview.
Blum started out by participating in a few webinars hosted by JEVS, connecting with Jackie Savoy, a senior career counselor. She began working with Savoy, who helped her expand her job search beyond just food service.
“I started digging around and searching for things I really wanted to do, which I never thought to look for before,” Blum said.
After widening her search and sharpening her resume and cover letter, Blum landed a job as a contact tracer, where she calls people who were recently around someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and urges them to quarantine. It was a job she never considered her skills could translate to.
“It’s perfect for me,” she said.
During shutdown, JEVS has been working with people who have never needed help with their career before. Some people who are unexpectedly out of work just don’t know where to look for help, Savoy said, and others are too ashamed to ask.
“It’s happening to so many people. Help is available if you’re willing to make a phone call,” she said.
In the last two months, JEVS has helped place 17 candidates at new jobs ranging from $25 to $60 an hour. While certain industries such as the restaurant industry may not be hiring as much as before, skills can adapted to cross over into new industries, Savoy said.
Interest in webinars and various career services has picked up during shutdown, including popular topics such as staying motivated during a job search, ways to network and how you can make yourself a more hireable candidate from home.
For those not currently searching for positions, Savoy recommends staying active by updating your resume and LinkedIn profiles or practicing interview skills.
by Laura Mackin JEVS Marketing Communications Intern
During the 2nd semester of my junior year at Temple University, I was given the opportunity to be the marketing communication intern at JEVS Human Services. During my time at JEVS, I have learned so much and have grown as a young professional. I was given multiple tasks and projects to work on, including social media posts, creating web pages, interviewing clients for feature stories, and so much more.
Having such a hands-on experience was one of the most beneficial parts of my internship. I gained knowledge that I could never get from sitting in a classroom.
I learned how to format a website and operate it from the back end. I also learned how email automation is created, and I even put together an email thread myself to be sent out to prospective students of their career training school, Orleans Technical College. Most importantly, I was able to visit program sites and interview clients who have had success working with JEVS.
Although my time at JEVS in-person at their Center City Philadephia office was cut short in March, the Communications Department made it a priority to continue to teach me, and give me the best experience possible. Working from home allowed me to view work from a different perspective. I saw how the whole department had to shift their way of communicating, and transition to online. Seeing such a huge transition done so smoothly taught me to be flexible and open-minded in any situation that may present itself in my future career.
Doing all of the tasks myself and getting feedback from my supervisor Jeanette Rattle, the director of marketing communications, taught me so much. Moving into my senior year, I will carry out my independence on projects and resourcefulness that I have gained while working at JEVS.
Leaving JEVS, I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity; I have grown as a writer and student since starting here in January. I also was able to experience what great leadership is. Jeanette was kind and patient with me. Learning something new can be challenging and sometimes intimidating, but I never felt that way at JEVS. I am excited to apply all of the skills I have learned at JEVS as I move forward into my senior year at Temple University.
Meet Kim, a 45-year-old inspiration who is making a statement for women everywhere.
Right as the coronavirus was closing down institutions across the region, Kim was fortunate to be finishing up a 6-month, hands-on carpentry training program at JEVS’ trades school, Orleans Technical College. She has big plans in store, and the pandemic isn’t going to slow down her dreams.
Before her stint at Orleans Tech, Kim was an interior designer for 22 years and also worked in real estate investment and property maintenance, including voluntarily managing a property for homeless veterans. While managing these properties, she needed an extended line of credit from the bank. She needed to know how to secure the property, not just use her interior design skills. While running into this problem, she knew it could be solved with help from Orleans Technical College.
When Kim enrolled at the school and began the training program, it was all new territory to her. Despite any doubts, Kim found her way in no time. “When I started I thought all hammers were hand-held size, I didn’t know they had different weights! I was nervous, and the instructor said to me ‘just show up and you’ll get it’ and I did.”
Kim, like many other women, believes that women in the building and construction trades are not represented enough. “It was unheard of for a female to do this, and even my family said ‘oh no, you can’t do that.’ I didn’t think it would be fun, and thought it would be difficult, but I took it step by step and realized anyone can do it.”
One of many proudful moments during her months at Orleans Tech was building a two-story structure to scale with her classmates—many of whom were women—within their classroom. Working from blueprints drawn by their Orleans instrustor, the class constructed a coffee shop on the first level and apartment on the second. Kim wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, working on everything from the wood studs and drywall, to windows and siding. She had really come around since that first day in class.
Kim walked into the bank weeks ago wearing her Orleans Tech-issued polo shirt (her class uniform). She had credibility and was able to have the opportunity to discuss funding for future real estate ventures. Becoming a construction manager and owning her properties is her goal, and JEVS and Orleans Tech got her one step closer.
Kim is currently working with the Jumpstart Tioga neighborhood redevelopment project and hopes to continue doing community development work with the program in the near future. Kim’s ambition and drive are inspiring to other women who want to learn a trade and build a future for themselves in a non-traditional field.
> See video below for Kim and her classmates featured on NBC10 News
Now more than ever, women are needed in trades. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make up only 9% of the construction and skill trades industry. JEVS’ Orleans Technical College sees this as an opportunity to meet the growing demand for skilled trade workers with women who are ready to take on building trades.
The current building maintenance and carpentry classes at Orleans Tech are working on building their first commercial building within their classroom: a coffee shop with a second-floor apartment duplex. Students work together on every aspect of the building and are proud of their work so far. Carolyn, Kim, Dominique, and Ida make up some of the women in the class who have big plans for their future in trades.
Kim, 44, Philadelphia PA
Kim was an interior designer for 22 years before starting at Orleans. Currently, she manages a property housing homeless veterans, but wants to own her own property management company after graduation. She believes those who work with housing should learn the trades to understand and communicate properly.
Carolyn, 29, Burlington City NJ
Carolyn used to work in massage therapy until she decided it wasn’t the right path for her. She likes working with her hands, but wanted to find a job she was passionate about. When looking for technical schools, she toured Orleans and decided to attend. Now, she loves learning, hands-on, about construction. After graduation, she is interested in gaining more experience and eventually opening a business in tiny homes.
Ida, 55, Philadelphia PA
Ida has traveled near and far to find the right niche. In 2004, she earned a degree in architecture at the Community College of Philadelphia, then moved to Texas. While she was there, she became a licensed cosmetology teacher. She loves cutting hair, but also has a passion for carpentry. At Orleans, she does not sit back despite her age. After graduation, she plans on gaining as much experience as possible before starting a family business in house flipping.
Dominique, 24, Philadelphia PA
Dominique grew up watching her stepfather work around the house. As she got older, she went from watching, to helping, to doing things on her own. After receiving her GED and property maintenance certificate from JEVS Project WOW in 2015, she enrolled in Orleans. Although she is not quite sure what she wants to pursue after graduation, she is interested in gaining more experience.
At 8 a.m., you can find Markus Mitchell at the help desk in the IT department at JEVS Human Services answering request calls, following up on emails, and helping walk-ins—tackling any issues or desperate cries for assistance with troubleshooting devices. He then does a quick sweep of the office, assisting coworkers with passwords, printers, or connection problems; working to make the day run smoothly for everyone.
His journey to employment at JEVS took an interesting path.
After Mitchell graduated high school, he found himself working odd jobs before enrolling in a community college. With no desire to accumulate tuition debt for classes that didn’t interest him, he began to search for a more fulfilling career.
He soon found an alternative to a college degree, the pre-apprenticeship program called TechServ Scholars offered by JEVS. His dedication shined as he learned hardware and software knowledge from program staff and mentors, while gaining hands-on experience through volunteer service in rec centers and schools throughout Philadelphia.
This program led Mitchell to a registered apprentice opportunity with the information technology department at JEVS. “Even though you are an apprentice, you are still treated as an employee,” he said.
Now, a year later, Mitchell has finished his apprenticeship, becoming an “official,” full-time employee. He enjoys his position, especially when comparing it to his old jobs, “Of course, I like the job! I’m no longer mad about getting out of bed early. My days used to drag, but now my day flies by.”
When asked if he would recommend an apprenticeship over a traditional two- or four-year degree program he responded, “I recommend it all the time. I am not in tuition debt, and I’m not stuck in a classroom, but it does take a lot of time and accountability. There’s no easy way into this field – you have to go through fire.”
Joe DeVincentis, junior systems administrator at JEVS, mentored him through his apprenticeship and continues to work with him now. “Markus wants to help, he wants to be engaged, he wants to learn,” he said. “He might not get it at first, but he wants to hear the information, and he wants to absorb it.”
Mitchell is currently balancing his new career at JEVS, completing a certificate program for network analysis, and studying for his Comp TIA A+ certification, which includes running through 200-400 exam questions every night.
As for his thoughts on being an official employee at JEVS, he doesn’t feel much of a difference. “I already feel like an employee. I am not feeling any extra pressure. I feel right at home.”
The program allows students to make their own schedule and get help from JEVS coaches.
When Karen Clark gets home from work, she has two kids to take care of, dinner to get on the table and errands to run.
Clark has a bachelor’s in film and animation, but her career path changed after graduation. Now, she works in the nonprofit sector and wants to move into management. Going back to school was the thing to do to get ahead, but her busy lifestyle didn’t allow her to spend hours and dollars on in-person classes.
That’s when she learned she could get a degree at her own pace from Southern New Hampshire University and JEVS Human Services.
“Traditional school doesn’t work for everyone,” Clark said. “But I believe in this program.”
SNHU and JEVS partnered to bring a new model of higher education to the Philadelphia region this year to allow people of all ages to earn an affordable degree. The online program guides students through employer-developed projects that show their mastery of skills—on their own timeline.
“It’s like college deconstructed,” said Grace Cannon, JEVS’ director of post-secondary education. “There are no courses or seat time. You may have six projects that when they’re pulled together are equivalent to a course.”
Students in the program can earn an associate or bachelor’s degree from SNHU in several academic areas, including healthcare management, communications and public administration. Each program costs about $6,000 a year, and financial aid and scholarships are available.
Clark is in the business administration program. Unlike her time in traditional college general education classes, she feels a connection to all of her work because it is focused on her program.
“I have ownership over my education,” she added. “It puts you in a situation where I have to think. No one is lecturing in my ear for hours telling me what they think. I’m learning at my own pace and developing skills like I would in the real world.”
Real-world application is a goal of the partnership, Cannon said. Instead of grading on an A to F scale, students move forward by mastering skills after workshopping and completing projects with the help of a degree advisor.
“It’s much more like the world of work,” Cannon said. “In my job, I don’t get a C minus. I get feedback and I have to revise. That’s really a way to prepare you for the work world.”
In addition to building your own schedule, the JEVS+SNHU partnership is unique because it matches each student with a dedicated coach who guides them to success in all aspects of the program; from applying for financial aid to finding time that works to dedicate to studying.
Jabari Adams, a JEVS coach, spends his day meeting with students, keeping them on track and communicating with SNHU to figure out best practices for student success. When Adams attended a traditional school, he often felt lost on how to keep persisting toward a degree.
“There’s a joy in helping students circumvent some of the challenges that you had,” he said. “Having a program that mimics what they do in real life really allows people to have a more positive attitude toward education and create opportunities for themselves and their families.”
After realizing the impact being a student has had in her life, Clark became a coach herself. “Many of our students didn’t believe they could do it,” she said. “Watching them have that a-ha moment is awesome.”
JEVS also supports students with Philadelphia-area study groups and student orientations. “You don’t lose that human connection,” Cannon said. Cannon sees the partnership as a step to alleviate the obstacles of moving forward in your career.
“College is too expensive. There’s too many people living in debt and yet too many people need degrees,” she said. “That’s linked to getting jobs and advanced education so you can get better, life-sustaining jobs with benefits.”
“In order to change your circumstances you need to have understanding and opportunity,” Adams added. “JEVS+SNHU creates that opportunity.”