If you didn’t read our previous blog about Employment Readiness, here is a quick summary to catch you up:
Employment Readiness is a two-week class offered by Pathways. Volunteers from the Junior League of Birmingham teach the class, which covers a range of job-related topics including resumes, cover letters, job applications and mock interviews.
During a recent session, Lauren and Ashley, who both work in human resources at a local bank, taught the class. Although Lauren and Ashley have been members of the Junior League and volunteered at other places, this was their first time teaching Employment Readiness.
I sat down with both women after the first night and the last night of class to see how their thoughts evolved over the two-week session. Even for me, the end result was very surprising.
After the first night, both Lauren and Ashley expressed concerns about how the women would react to the class. They were both surprised at how open the women seemed even on day one. The class went well, although you could tell there was tension in the room because most of the women didn’t know each other.
“The women were a lot more receptive than I thought,” said Lauren. “I was a little nervous before wondering how they would take to it but I was really pleasantly surprised.”
Ashley was surprised by how many women had previously held jobs and couldn’t find one now. The class included a former substitute teacher, telemarketer, nursing assistant and security guard.
“It’s interesting talking to them realizing this is not the first time they’ve tried to go out and find a job," Ashley said. "It’s disheartening to realize how hard it is for some people to find a job. It definitely opens your eyes to the fact that these women are out there looking and it isn’t as easy as you think.”
Even on day one, though, both women understood the most important thing: homelessness and joblessness can happen to anyone.
“It’s easy to kind of separate yourself from these women, but the truth is with just a few different things happening in each of our lives, we could all end up here. It’s eye opening to realize that with just a few twists and turns it could be anyone sitting here really wanting to find a job and provide for their children and not be able to,” said Ashley.
So how much could two women really change after eight days? Day eight - graduation day - was completely different than day one. There was laughter, smiles and hugs in every direction. Each Pathways’ woman chose to dance down the middle of the classroom aisle to receive her graduation packet and a big hug from Lauren and Ashley. The classmates and their two teachers had formed a real, lasting bond. The class ended with even more hugs and multiple “I love you’s.”
After the final class, I sat down with Lauren and Ashley one more time.
“I loved it. The class was awesome,” said Lauren. "The women were really impressive."
“I think we fell in love with them, even in just two weeks,” Ashley added. “It’s really easy to separate yourself and think they were here for a reason, but when you really get to know the women, you realize that’s not a fair assessment.”
Both Lauren and Ashley were surprised by how impressive the women were during mock interviews and their work histories.
“They were all awesome interviews. Some of them were better interviewees than me and that’s what I do for a living,” said Lauren.
“The caliber of women in this class was great,” said Ashley. “There was one lady who has worked at Taco Bell for 19 years and been promoted three times.”
The two women who came to teach the class ended up learning a lot as well.
“I was just reminded to be grateful and to remember the small things,” said Ashley. “It’s really easy to take everything for granted.”
“Even small things like having the opportunity to go to college or to finish high school," Lauren said. "It makes you appreciate that you had that, especially seeing how hard these women have to struggle not having that.”
At the end of the two-week session, Lauren and Ashley expressed a range of emotions: happy, sad, surprised. But mostly, they just felt an outpouring of love.
“I just think these women are phenomenal. And how much love they have for us, I didn’t expect that,” said Lauren.
“Every night this week we couldn’t wait to get here,” said Ashley. “We couldn’t stop talking about them all week long. I felt like I would be helping. I never expected to be helped. It’s been great.”
Heather Caygle is a former public relations intern from at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She spent the summer working with Pathways.