At exactly 8:30 a.m. on an early Tuesday morning in Chicago’s West Loop, positive energy and inspiration broke loose from a group of people and set the tone for a day—and for lives—of impact.
It was Motivations, a morning ritual that takes place every Monday through Thursday at Cara—a nonprofit organization specializing in job training and placement since 1991. Anyone—from visitors to employees to Cara participants—can join in Motivations and take two to three minutes to share reflections of the day’s theme then lead a song summarizing those ideas. The only rule at Motivations: use of the word “try” is severely disallowed.
“If I could tell everyone in the world to go through Cara I would,” says Adrian, “because you can get every benefit from the program. Being in Cara opens you up because at first I couldn’t speak in front of a crowd. But being at Cara and Cleanslate, I’ve led Motivations three times – I volunteered to lead Motivations. Cara opens you up so you’re not afraid of speaking in front of a crowd and other things.”
CCLF works with Cara through the Chicago Neighborhood Rebuild Pilot Program (Rebuild Program); Adrian is a current Rebuild Program participant. “After I finished the program at Cara,” Adrian says, “our leader told everyone from the age of 19-27 in the group about Rebuild—that’s how I learned about Rebuild—
then I got into Cleanslate.”
Through the Rebuild Program, Cara and its social enterprise Cleanslate provide social services and transitional job training to help improve community stability. By connecting at-risk youth, hard-to-serve unemployed residents and ex-offenders to real work activities, Rebuild’s transitional jobs help participants break negative life patterns and engage in positive steps toward re-entering the community as responsible, productive citizens.
In addition to Cara, CCLF collaborated with the City of Chicago, the Cook County Land Bank Authority, Community Investment Corporation and The Safer Foundation for the Rebuild Program. The program is committed to providing workforce solutions to 200 youth and ex-offenders over three years and rehab 50 abandoned properties in the city’s toughest neighborhoods.
Cara’s short- and long-term transitional job experiences are offered through Cleanslate, and Cara Connects. Cleanslate sources jobs that specialize in exterior maintenance including landscaping and snow removal, while Cara Connects focuses on contract staffing, sourcing such opportunities as administrative positions and warehousing jobs. Cara assign participants who are in need of workforce experience to a Cleanslate crew to complete the onboarding program. The Cleanslate crew works at various sites throughout the city that would benefit from area beautification.
“I knew I was doing something good at Cleanslate,” says Adrian. “I came to Cara one day and the janitor here asked me if my name was ‘Adrian.’ I said yes and he told me I was getting talked about around here. Not in a bad way, it was in a good way … I was so proud of myself! Because I knew I was doing everything I needed to do at Cleanslate. Everything I did at Cleanslate, they knew about at Cara.”
Cara, which means “friend” in Gaelic according to Mark Toriski, Marketing and Communications Manager, will train participants in building
personal and professional skills before placing
them in a job best suited to them. Cara will then
provide retention coaching for each individual
for the first year on the job. “There is no stigma
here. But there are a lot of rigors for what we do
here. You have to be ready, able and motivated
to get back to work.”
After a childhood of tribulations, surviving without a father in an unstable neighborhood, Cara participant Marquis says, “I saw a whole bunch of violence and negativity growing up. At one point in my life I realized I had to let go of the anger and hostility.”
“I got a chance to get into Cara because my mother who was trying to get me to go get a LINK Card. I finally went but I told them I really don’t want a LINK Card, I want a job! They gave me a bunch of tests and options, and I chose Cara. This place was a real humbler,” Marquis continues. “I had to re-humble myself.”
Through workshops and education, Cara’s training is based on five workplace competencies: Professionalism, Time Management, Conflict Resolution, Communication and Team Work. Once basic needs are met and professionalism and interview readiness are achieved by the participant, Cara’s placement team works to identify job matches and qualifications, provide interview preparation instructions specific to the job posting, and assist with follow-up. To ensure successful re-integration into the community and retention of stable employment, Cara offers intensive follow-up support services to its participants for at least one year after they are placed into permanent employment to assist in stabilizing their lives.
“When I found Cara, I was motivated by the atmosphere here,” Marquis says. “Cara guided me to where I wanted to go. I wanted to be a truck driver but Elaine Ross [Cara’s Manager of Placement Services] told me I was hiding my potential if I just settled for that. She helped me find a job at the Union League Club of Chicago and I’ve been there for two years now. I’ve been promoted three times already and was named runner-up for Employee of the Year my first year. I still communicate with [Career Advancement and Alumni Manager] Rita Balzotti. We talk about my next steps and she keeps my resume updated.” Marquis recently moved his family to a house purchased in Oak Park, Illinois. “Through God, Cara and my family I’ve got the tools to be a success,” he says.
“Just stick through it,” adds Adrian. “You will have your ups and downs, your good days and bad days but stick through it. Because at the end of the day, you will benefit from this and it will take you far. Being here at Cara opens you up.”