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home : opinion : our neighbors' faith

2/4/2016 9:00:00 AM
OUR NEIGHBORS' FAITH
A decade of Assisi in Albany helping needy find good jobs
BY BILL AND CYNTHIA CROMIE


Assisi in Albany is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Its job counseling program is a quiet work of mercy that has been helping people find and keep good work since 2006. This modest program has made a huge difference in the lives of many families who would otherwise be struggling.

In spring 2004, Rev. Paul Lininger, OFM Conv., called together a group of lay Catholics that included us along with Bob and Anne Griffin, Maureen Gross, David and Lily James and Mary Beth O'Brien to brainstorm ideas about how to help neighbors of the downtown church community who were looking for good work.

After considering several ideas that turned out to be impractical, Deacon Ray Sullivan came to a meeting and helped shape the idea of creating a job counseling office. He brought years of experience in testing and training employees. As a deacon, he had volunteered with programs that serve the kind of people our group wanted to help. Deacon Ray and Betty Sullivan joined our board, shortly followed by John and Kathy Biscone. The spark was lit for Assisi in Albany to launch into a reliable, effective effort.

Assisi in Albany was offered office space by Rev. Paul Rees-Roherbacher, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Albany. As a project sponsored by both the Immaculate Conception province of Conventual Franciscan friars and St. John's, Assisi in Albany was an ecumenical effort from the very beginning.

Its office opened in 2006; Deacon Sullivan volunteered to be our first counselor, trying to place clients in good jobs. He soon realized what kind of counselor was going to be needed, and found the right person: Pamela Bullock, who has extensive experience working in social services, became executive director.

She has a gift for connecting with each client where he or she is. Pam meets with each client individually; together, they work through the challenge of finding and keeping what is often a client's first real job. Pam consults with clients to help them sort out what kind of work would be the best fit. She helps them shape resumes toward the jobs they hope to land. Understanding how complicated life can be for her clients, she works with them to sort out whatever housing, day care or transportation issues may impede their ability to get and keep work. She prepares clients for job interviews, holding practice interviews in her office. She even has a rack of button-down shirts and accessories to lend so clients can present themselves as work-ready.

The other half of Pamela Bullock's job is developing a network of area employers who need to fill entry-level positions. She has cultivated good working relationships with many Albany-area employers: hospitals, food-service companies, real estate developers, grocery and retail stores and others. She has fostered relationships with supervisors of many local agencies that can help to provide the support her clients need to succeed at their new jobs.

The men and women who come to Assisi for help find in Pam someone who cares, who takes them on personally and helps to establish a new way of living. For example, Pam sends her clients out to get a savings account at a local bank and encourages them to start saving at least a small amount out of every paycheck as an emergency fund for their families.

When one of Pam's first clients, a young man, came in with a drug problem, Pam asked him to get off drugs for 45 days and come back clean. He did, and Pam helped him find a good job. Years later, he is still drug-free and successful at his work. Another young man was in tears by the end of his first interview with Pam: "You talk to me like you know me, like we grew up together!"

In taking on clients, Pam tries to find out what kind of job will work for them: Would they do well in a people-oriented environment like a hospital or retail, or would they do better in food service, janitorial service or a warehouse? She also tries to find the relationship in their lives that makes work worth doing: a new baby, a mother who is not well. Pam helps them understand how important work is for providing for family members they love. She follows up with both client and employer for at least a year, so if any situations relating to the new job arise, she can help work out solutions.

Under the umbrella of the Conventual Franciscans and St. John's Church, Assisi in Albany is supported by a small but devoted board of directors. Founding board president Bob Griffin stepped down from Assisi in Albany in 2013 and died last summer; the new president is Peter Maloy, who is continuing the effort initiated by the founders.

Assisi in Albany has one employee and one focus: In the spirit of Pope Francis, meeting our neighbors in need with love grounded in reality, which is mercy.

(Learn more at www.assisiinalbany.com or send donations to Assisi in Albany, PO Box 11015, Loudonville, NY 12211.)





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