Careers for a Cause

Careers for a Cause graduates holding their certificates. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors.

With cheers, laughter and tears of joy, 23 men and women became the first to graduate from the innovative Careers for a Cause job training program and are poised to become case managers and other workers in the growing homeless services industry.

Many of the graduates had struggled to find jobs in the past, and some had experienced homelessness themselves.

Careers for a Cause student Briley Presely, center, flanked by instructor Courtney Pierce and WDACS’ Cherylynn Hoff. Photo by Diandra Jay.

“I am thankful to everyone who took a chance on this class,” said Kimberly Brown, who just got hired as a case manager with A Step to Freedom, a community-based organization that provides housing and supportive services to people experiencing homelessness.  “Thank you for taking the leap of faith.”

Careers for a Cause was developed by the Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, in partnership with Los Angeles County’s Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services Department (WDACS), Los Angeles Southwest College, St. Joseph’s Center, and the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z) to expand the County’s homeless services industry. The eight-week program offered career exploration and assessment, job shadowing, skills training, on-the-job coaching, and job retention support. In addition, students received wrap-around support services and a stipend.

Several of the graduates have already been hired by homeless services agencies, and others are currently undergoing the interview process for outreach, case management, and data entry positions. Two people left the program early after being invited to join the staff of nonprofit agencies serving homeless youth.

Among the prospective or new employers for Careers for a Cause graduates are St. Joseph Center, Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System (HOPICS), Southern California Health and Rehabilitation Program (SCHARP), Coalition For Responsible Community Development (CRCD), The Good Seed, Upward Bound House, Salvation Army, WellNest, Volunteers of America, LA Family Housing, and the Los Angeles Housing Services Authority (LAHSA).

“We need innovative solutions that create pathways to living wage careers,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Careers for a Cause meets that challenge by providing individuals the opportunity for meaningful employment.”

Los Angeles County Workforce Development Board Interim Executive Director Cherylynn Hoff said Careers for a Cause can help to break the cycle of poverty and transform lives. “Careers for a Cause is about so much more than just job placement — it is about supporting the development of self-sufficient, efficacious individuals who are leaders in their families, communities and workplaces, working on personal and interdependent levels to break cycles of generational poverty and trauma.”

“It has been a true honor to have Los Angeles Southwest College host the critical Careers For A Cause program and we are very appreciative of all of our partners in this effort, especially Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and his dedicated team,” said Dr. Seher Awan, president of Los Angeles Southwest College (LASC), where the classes where held. “The LASC students who graduated from this program have been provided by our Noncredit Adult and Continuing Education Services instructors with the necessary skills to find success in the social and homeless services sector in order to assist those most in need of support and a helping hand.”

Careers for a Cause student Earl Williams speaks at the graduation ceremony. Photo by Diandra Jay.

“The Careers For A Cause graduates now have the ability to make a generational change in the lives of so many,” Dr. Awan added. “While I know that their future work will not be easy, it will be of the utmost importance in addressing the most pressing of challenges in our county. I have full confidence that these students have been prepared for all that comes next in their professional responsibilities.”

Since the passage of Measure H, the homeless services industry has more than 2,400 jobs.

According to the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, more than 1,400 jobs were filled in first 15 months during the first wave of hiring after Measure H passed, from July 2017 through September 2018. Since then, about 400 jobs are being filled every three months. Careers for a Cause was created to address the growing demand for well-trained workers as well as to create job opportunities for local residents.

Earl Williams, one of the graduates, said it provided him with a sense of hope and confidence. “I was initially scared to say I needed help. Because of the staff, I can now trust. I can be myself and I can now look my mom in the eye and say I did it.”

Algenia Harding, another graduate, said she had just lost her job, had her car repossessed, and was on the verge of being evicted when she was accepted into Careers for Cause. “I started crying because this opportunity allowed me to get out of my current situation, but most importantly help others.”

Careers for a Cause student Valerie Williams poses with her family at the graduation ceremony. Photo by Diandra Jay.