Q&A with Amber Gorman at BETTER WORK Columbus

Q&A with Amber Gorman at BETTER WORK Columbus

Q&A with Amber Gorman at BETTER WORK Columbus

Amber Gorman joined the BETTER WORK Columbus team in October, 2022 as a program specialist. We recently had a chance to sit down with her and hear more about her background, what brought her to BETTER WORK, and why she is passionate about helping people who are struggling find meaningful, self-supporting work.

 

Q: Please tell us a little about yourself.

I come from generational poverty. I grew up very poor. I also struggled with addiction for a couple of years, but I’m now five years clean, which is great. God brought me out of that and He has also brought me out of poverty through employment and networking. Now, I have social capital which I didn’t used to have. I also have a better view of myself now than I used to. I thought that was just my life and that it wasn’t ever going to get any better. Then I got tired of living like that and I was like, “I’m going to do something different.” And I did whatever it took. It was a lot of work.

I have a criminal background as well. Looking at me on paper, most people wouldn’t hire me, but they bring me in for an interview. Then, they hear my story and they’re like, “Oh, wow! I want to give you a chance.” I’ve never been not hired because of my background, which is great in the position that I’m currently in. 

A lot of the candidates that I work with at BETTER WORK Columbus deal with a lot of what I’ve already been through and overcome, so I can take my life experiences and bring that to them and help them come through that. That’s kind of me in a nutshell. As far as work experience, I feel like I’ve done it all. I’ve done it all like resorts, chicken plants, textile mills, and retail. I’ve done it all.

Q: What brought you to BETTER WORK Columbus?

I’m not from Columbus. I’m actually from Northeast Georgia, a little bitty, small town in White County. My husband and I moved down here. There just weren’t a lot of opportunities up there and he had a network down here. So, about a year after we got married, we moved down here, and then I didn’t work for a while, and then I started going back to work. It was just kind of part-time, just to kind of get out of the house.

We got involved with Fountain City Church in Columbus. Pastor Grant Collins is amazing. We love him. Before we became members, I asked him, “What’s your ministry? Who do you partner with? How are you trying to reach the community?” He told me that Jobs for Life is what they partnered with. And at the time I wasn’t working and I was like, “Oh well, I don’t know if that’s something that I would be interested in because I don’t even have a job.”

That’s when I met Kristin Barker. She was holding a Jobs for Life luncheon for employer partners at the church. I didn’t know that’s what it was. My pastor asked me to help volunteer serving food, and so I went and I got to sit through the presentation and it touched me because we didn’t have that where I was from and I had to do all of it on my own — like build my own connections and make myself more marketable to employers.

So many people need that and it gives you such an advantage in the work market place. And so after that, I was like, “I have to be a part of this.” You know, I have to and so a little bit later, Pastor Grant comes back. He asked me, ” Hey, do you want to be a facilitator for Jobs for Life?” I was hesitant. I got all nervous and I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do it”. He said that he thinks I’d be great and so I said yes.

Kristin and I worked closely together for 13 weeks. And then the job posting came up with BETTER WORK Columbus, and she was like, ” I think you should apply for it.” I was a little worried because I didn’t have a degree or this or that and there’s my criminal background but she knew all of that. She’s heard my story and she still encouraged me to apply. And I was like, ” You know what, if God wants me to have it, then I’ll have it. ” And so I did and I applied and went through the interview process, and here I am.

Q: What’s your role at BETTER WORK?

I’m the program specialist for BETTER WORK Columbus. I’m the point of contact for candidates and am working on becoming the point of contact for employers as well. When candidates put in their applications — whether it’s for employment, training, or mentorship — I speak with them. We kind of figure out what it is exactly that they need, and what’s going to be a good fit for them. I help pair them with resources in the community as well as job opportunities. Or, if they’re interested in mentoring or having a mentor, then I partner them with that mentor as well and kind of foster that relationship.




 

“What really touches my heart is being able to help those people who are maybe underemployed or have just been out of the workforce for a while or moms that are trying to come into the workforce and being able to connect with those opportunities.”

“What really touches my heart is being able to help those people who are maybe underemployed or have just been out of the workforce for a while or moms that are trying to come into the workforce and being able to connect with those opportunities.”

Q: What are some of your favorite aspects of BETTER WORK’s mission?

 

Our positive relationship with employers is my favorite part. In Columbus there are around 300 applicants for every open job. It’s a tough environment. But with BETTER WORK, we have those relationships so we can kind of help the candidates get a foot in the door. What we’re doing though is we’re targeting people who are in poverty. 

We don’t turn anybody away. I have people who come to me with Bachelor’s Degrees that’s just relocated and it’s great to be able to help them to gain employment, too. But what really touches my heart is being able to help those people who are maybe underemployed or have just been out of the workforce for a while or moms that are trying to come into the workforce and being able to connect with those opportunities. A lot of them are on government programs. Eventually, the goal is to be self-sufficient and connect them with opportunities where they can work. 

It’s not just a job. It’s something that’s supposed to be long-term where they can grow. They can learn more about themselves. They learn more about the workforce and they can move up in the industry. I love being able to give those opportunities to people that want them.

 

Q: What are some of the things that motivate you, personally, in your work?

My hope for the future of BETTER WORK is that I want us to become the go-to place for job applicants and employers. Applicants can feel confident that we’re going to be able to place them somewhere. Employers are going to be confident that we’re going to send them people that are going to be there till they retire, and they’re going to be wonderful employees. Also, it could also reduce unemployment rates and things like that. I really want to create a childcare program. That’s what I want to do.



 

Eddie’s story: Moving from homelessness to a housing and a stable job

Eddie’s story: Moving from homelessness to a housing and a stable job

Eddie

Eddie’s story: Moving from homelessness to a housing and a stable job

Key Points

  • Eddie was homeless and living on the streets. 
  • With a home secured, Eddie’s next step was to find more permanent work
  • Eddie is excited and proud to have taken steps toward building the life he wants.

“I look forward to moving on up.”

That’s how Eddie Craig describes his current career aspirations. He has light in his eyes and hope in his heart, now that he has a steady job and a place to call home. But life wasn’t always so good for Eddie.

Eddie spent nearly five years on the street, homeless and working odd jobs. He earned money by raking and mowing yards, but it wasn’t enough to pay for a place to live. Every night, he slept in his car.

Then, he came to Home For Good, where he got in touch with an advocate named Ms. Terry. One morning, Ms. Terry located his car, where she woke him and introduced herself. 

“I heard her tap on the car window one morning. To be honest with you, I thought it was the police, because they were white,” Eddie says. “But I stepped out of the car and found out her name was Ms. Terry. She got my name and everything.” 

For about a month, Ms. Terry worked with Eddie to find affordable housing. 

“The next thing I knew, she was calling me to tell me I had my own place,” he says. “We went over there and checked it out. I didn’t care what it looked like. She said, ‘You like it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I like it, no problem.’”

With his housing secure, Eddie’s next step was to find more permanent work. That’s where BETTER WORK Columbus stepped in. Eddie attended a job fair hosted by BETTER WORK. Eddie met Kristin, who went on to help him complete his hiring paperwork and get his questions answered.

“Between BETTER WORK and Home For Good, getting Eddie into housing and a steady job was a team effort,” Kristin says. 

Unfortunately, once Eddie was hired at his first job through BETTER WORK, reliable transportation proved to be an obstacle. His employer changed his schedule to another shift, and he couldn’t get to work. Still, he was determined to find another job, so he reached back out to BETTER WORK for help any time he encountered a roadblock. 

“He succeeded because he didn’t give up,” Kristin says. 

Fortunately, Eddie was able to get connected at a new job with the Marriott Hotel, where he’s happily employed and thriving. Since Eddie doesn’t have a formal education, Kristin and Ms. Terry helped him complete and submit his application paperwork. Along the way, he also got help obtaining the identifying documentation he needed to get hired — items such as his birth certificate, ID, and Social Security card.

“I had to start from the bottom,” he says.

Eddie credits Kristin for the job and Ms. Terry for his escape from homelessness.

“Thank God for BETTER WORK,” says Eddie. “I’m a living witness this has helped me.”

 

 

“Thank God for BETTER WORK,” says Eddie. “I’m a living witness this has helped me.”

“Thank God for BETTER WORK,” says Eddie. “I’m a living witness this has helped me.”

Eddie’s success story at BETTER WORK is largely attributed to the fact that he had a genuine desire to earn an honest living for himself. He knew others in the homeless community who didn’t share his drive, but he was determined to build a better future for himself. 

“I consider myself physically healthy and mentally healthy,” he says. “As far as a paycheck, everybody loves a paycheck.”

For others like Eddie who are looking for a steady job, he offers reassurance that the team at BETTER WORK will take their interests and strengths into consideration during the job search process. 

“BETTER WORK is going to help you find what you love to do,” he says. “It won’t just be digging ditches — unless you like digging ditches.”

Ultimately, Eddie is excited and proud to have taken steps toward building the life he wants. And BETTER WORK is proud to have played a part in his story. 

“It’s just good to be in the workforce,” he says.

Roadblocks to work make the world a sticky place

Roadblocks to work make the world a sticky place

Man on steps holding sign that reads jobless, will work for mortgage

Roadblocks to work make the world a sticky place

Key Points

  • The hindrances to people finding work goes far beyond an unwillingness or inability to work.
  • Those looking for work face many barriers that range from circumstantial to systemic and even policy roadblocks.
  • It is important that we understand the roadblocks faced by those looking for work so that we can properly address them as we move people into work opportunities.

A story about work barriers

I met a gentleman earlier this year (we’ll call him Lenny) who stated that “he just wants to work”. His basic needs are being met, at least for now, but he can’t stand the idea that he isn’t able to contribute. While talking to Lenny and hearing his story, I realized just how many physical roadblocks he has to overcome in order to start a job, show up at a job site every single day to do the work, and get a paycheck. There are basic requirements, the things that most people take for granted as necessary and easy, that create huge barriers for Lenny.

I will share a few of these physical roadblocks below that Better Work is addressing as we work with Lenny.

Joyelle wasn’t looking for a handout, she was looking for an opportunity to provide and support her family.

Joyelle wasn’t looking for a handout, she was looking for an opportunity to provide and support her family.

 Transportation

This is one of the first barriers Lenny has to consider that impacts his ability to work. His main mode of transportation is walking. He walks to shop. He walks to appointments. He walks to work when he can. Lenny will also take the bus if it is available when and where he needs to go. He has no other options for transportation.

This means that Lenny can’t work in positions that start before the bus can get him there or end after the bus stops running (currently at 8:30pm) unless that business is close enough for him to walk. He also can’t accept jobs that require him to work on Sundays because no public transportation is currently available then.

Inconsistent Work

The transportation challenges described above have caused Lenny to leave a position he worked in faithfully for 2.5 months to look for another. A change in scheduling meant he was no longer able to stay in this job. This can lead to job hopping and means Lenny is unable to get the traction he needs to set goals, get raises, and improve his current situation.

Technology

Lenny has never really used computers as most of his past work has been in jobs requiring physical labor. He has a phone and recently set up an email address but doesn’t really understand how to check it or communicate that way. This creates additional limitations in a world that more often than not requires communication via technology at every level and for any occupation.

Applications and Hiring Paperwork

Most job applications are online as well as the forms that must be completed during hiring. All of this is necessary. How else will hiring managers collect the information they need to pay you and to protect your data. These online requirements can become a roadblock for someone like Lenny.

Lenny is not so very different from others I talk to on a weekly basis. He is actually in a better position than some. Fortunately, Lenny has an ID. Many don’t. Lenny doesn’t have children at home. Many do.

Society is quick to judge people who are not working. We are quick to label them as lazy. I ask you to consider what you would do if you were in Lenny’s place. The barriers mentioned above are just a drop in the bucket for people who find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of need.

Meanwhile, Lenny continues to fight for what is important to him – the dignity of work!

Better Work Columbus will continue to fight alongside Lenny and support others like him. I urge you to be slow to judge, wary of pointing fingers, and quick to show encouragement.

 

 

It’s Graduation Day!

It’s Graduation Day!

It’s Graduation Day!

Key Points

  • First graduating class of Jobs for Life and BETTER WORK Columbus partnership
  • Jobs for Life and BETTER WORK are joining forces to get help lift people out of poverty
On July 7th the first group 11 men and women graduated from the Better Work Jobs for Life class at the Asbury UMC training site. This course was the first of its kind in partnership between Jobs for Life and BETTER WORK Columbus.The goal was to give men and women a stronger foundation in life skills so they can go on to be reliable employees for local businesses.

“The Jobs for Life job-readiness training course helps men and women understand their dignity and God-given identity and gifts, develop character, and foster a supportive community that will equip them for work, life, and their overall goals. This method, combined with soft skills training, has proven to enable unemployed and underemployed men and women to find and keep meaningful employment.”

The Columbus community came together to support this group of students overcome their circumstances, and we are excited to see this partnership become a staple of the BETTER WORK program.
Jobs for Life BWC graduation
Jobs for Life BWC graduation
Why one woman turned down a $70K job due to the benefits cliffs

Why one woman turned down a $70K job due to the benefits cliffs

Frankie and Luisa

Why one woman turned down a $70K job due to the benefits cliffs

Key Points

  • Frankie made an unexpected choice when she turned down a $70,000 a year job opportunity while living in hotel housing.
  • Oftentimes people on safety net services make rational choices to stay on these services because the system would punish them before they have a firm place to land.
  • Frankie,  in a place of crisis, was unwilling to gamble with a stable choice despite a potentially great job opportunity.
  • Our safety net services must be reworked to address these “cliffs” and rebuilt to encourage and support the move into the workforce.

The thought of someone turning down a well-paying job to stay on welfare seems absurd. But that’s the exact scenario Frankie Johnson faced. It’s a real world example of the way benefit cliffs hurt people. Thankfully, Frankie found the BETTER WORK program and is on a new path to success.

 

An unexpected journey in life

Frankie Johnson, a Washington, D.C. native, grew up in a middle-class neighborhood and spent time serving her community. Through her community service work, she connected with many individuals who were victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, job loss, and poverty. By the time she’d reached her teens, Frankie knew she found fulfillment in working alongside others to improve their lives. 

At age 14, Frankie became pregnant with her first child, Evelyn. She gave birth just before her 15th birthday. She went on to get an internship through Job Corps, then earn her high school diploma. After graduation, she attended California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where she planned to study photography and 3D installation. 

But leaving Evelyn in Maryland with her parents while she studied in California proved to be too difficult a separation for Frankie. She moved to New York instead, which allowed her to see her daughter more often. 

At age 18, Frankie married a member of the military who was six years her senior. His deployments and resulting war-related trauma proved to be difficult on the family and the couple’s marriage. For the next six years, they lived in Texas and the Midwest before returning to Maryland. Steadily, the situation with Frankie’s husband deteriorated. 

 

It’s time to stop funding poverty.

And start finding solutions.

It’s time to stop funding poverty. And start finding solutions.

High aspirations, hidden pain

Despite the trouble at home, Frankie was a high achiever, building a career in human resources and working for firms such as Monumental Sports and the Nick Cannon Foundation. She worked as a high-end event planner, where she regularly brushed elbows with celebrities and influencers. 

When the family returned to Maryland, Frankie found herself heading up events for women who were victims of domestic violence. Meanwhile, at home, she was living in an abusive environment herself. 

“At home, I never knew what was going to become of my peace or if he was going to get triggered,” Frankie says. “I was serving in the community as a social worker. I put on events for women, took them on yacht parties, and tried to boost their self-esteem. No one knew I was suffering so much.”

Finally, the situation in Frankie’s home came to a head, and she fled to Atlanta with her children. Her uncle lived in the city, and she planned to make a fresh start there. 

But that fresh start didn’t come quickly or easily. 

 

Seeking safety in Atlanta

Without a job or a place to live, Frankie was forced to seek out government assistance and transitional housing in Gwinnett County for her family. 

“This was my first time being on the opposite side of transitional housing and understanding what the women who would talk to me [in the past] were going through,” she says. “It was strange to see the scarce resources, and to see women locked out of their hotels because the projects or community partners ran out of funding.” 

Transitional housing in hotels and apartments can cost women $500 or more per week, and according to Frankie, the living conditions are unsafe and unsanitary. Worse, residents got a chilly reception from their case workers when they raised concerns. 

“The water makes your skin itchy, and there are roaches coming up out of the sink and the drains,” Frankie says. “We were told we needed to boil our water to use it. It comes [out of the faucets] brown, and we had brown rashes on our bodies.”

While Frankie’s family was living in transitional housing, she experienced relentless prejudice, racism, and ridicule. 

“I had people come to my hotel, and ask me if I was a prostitute because my daughter said we were living in a hotel at school,” she says. “Someone from [the Department of Family and Children Services] came to my apartment and asked if I left my children [alone] at nighttime. He asked me if I was a stripper.” 

 

Forced to choose between assistance and higher income

While Frankie was waiting for available childcare and a pathway to affordable housing, she was forced to turn down a job placement that would have paid $70,000 per year. While she needed employment, she also needed the support from the government program. That was her ticket to a home she could afford, but she wouldn’t qualify if she took a new job that raised her income past eligibility requirements. 

“I never thought it would come to this,” she says. “I hadn’t prepared financially; I spent through my savings because I was waiting on childcare.” 

Frankie found herself trapped on what we call the Benefits Cliff — torn between taking steps toward a more secure future, but ultimately forced into making decisions that trapped her into long-term dependence on government benefits. Individuals and families who make over a certain amount of income per year are automatically struck from the list, and are no longer qualified for affordable housing, food support, or other government assistance. 

“They want to see your pay stubs, your bank statements. They want to make sure you’re poor,” Frankie says. “If you have a car, they want to know what kind of car you’re driving and if you have insurance. They want to make sure there’s no possible way you can work a job.”

“If there are no daycare facilities within a 30-mile radius of where you place me in my hotel and I don’t have a car to take my child a city over, I’m not going to be able to get a job,” she added. “Who’s going to watch my child all day?” 

Families in these transitional programs often find themselves stuck paying high bills while they await affordable housing. Frankie was forced to pay more than $2,000 per month for the hotel she and her children stayed in. Financially, staying put made no sense, but Frankie held on in hopes that affordable housing would come through. 

Leaving transitional housing puts parents at risk of losing their children to CPS, particularly if they’re perceived as living out of their vehicle. On the other hand, getting a higher-paying job disqualifies them from further government and charitable support. 

“It’s like a loophole to keep you destitute,” Frankie says. 

 

Dreams for a brighter future 

After three months in transitional housing, Frankie was able to connect with BETTER WORK Gwinnett. Her case worker, Luisa, formed a close connection with her, encouraging her and checking in on her as she prepared for a fresh start. 

“We lost our jobs during the pandemic,” Frankie says, “and that was the time when we needed encouragement and to find our way again — laugh again. Ms. Lusia provided a lot of that. She called me every day just to check on me.”  

After experiencing the frustration, humiliation, and helplessness of transitional housing herself — including witnessing another mother abandon her children when her time at the hotel was up — Frankie wants to help other women in similar circumstances. She hopes to go to law school to provide legal aid to other families who have suffered at the mercy of the system. 

“We need to get them their GEDs and diplomas. Start them off as home health aides, CPAs, LPNs, RNs, physician’s assistants, or doctors,” Frankie says, “But no one’s willing to help. They just want to enable their programs to get money for housing us. After that, you’re out on the street like a dog.”  

As for Frankie, she’s working with Luisa to get back into the human resources field, and considering a move to a more affordable city in south Alabama. 

“I’m not going to sit and wait for anyone to take care of me,” she says. “For the women who don’t have options, I’m going to school to fight for them.”

Better Work Providing On-Site Unemployment Assistance

Better Work Providing On-Site Unemployment Assistance

Better Work Providing On-Site Unemployment Assistance

Key Points

  • BETTER WORK Columbus is launching a new service allowing us to assist clients on-site.
  • BETTER WORK provides connections to local resources and work opportunities. 
  • Listening and responding to the needs of our community is how BETTER WORK better serves those in need.

Client assistance just got a little bit better

BETTER WORK Columbus is now able to assist clients on-site. We enjoy assisting our non-profit partners and helping them connect clients with employment. This is a new dimension of our work and is proving to be very helpful to non-profit organizations in Columbus and the surrounding area. Our non-profit partners who are focused on providing resources like housing, food, or assistance with utilities know that their clients also need the stability that comes with work. Meeting their clients on-site is a way for BETTER WORK to allow them to focus on their lane while we leverage our existing resources to help with the employment connection.

“Home for Good is partnering with BETTER WORK Columbus to help formerly homeless clients obtain and sustain employment so they can end their cycle of poverty,” said Terry Gallops, Home for Good Director. “Kristin Barker, BETTER WORK Program Manager, has been very successful in fulfilling this need by helping our clients as they complete applications and establish contact with potential employers. We are exceptionally pleased with the success of the BETTER WORK program, and several of our clients now have substantial employment!”

 

For Latesha, finding work was more than a paycheck. It helped her start a life journey that had meaning and purpose.

For Latesha, finding work was more than a paycheck. It helped her start a life journey that had meaning and purpose.

Meeting the need

Kristin recently shared why this is so important. “We enjoy meeting people where they are and where the need exists. It is in these spaces where we can learn more from each other and connect in new ways that will make all groups and all people in our community more successful. It’s a pleasure to help people like James who are looking for an opportunity to improve their lives by earning a steady income.”

If you are a non-profit and would  like to take advantage of the support and tools that BETTER WORK has to offer, send an email to kristin.barker@georgiaopportunity.org and start a conversation today!