You don’t have to see the whole staircase

by Margaret M. Treadwell

“If you want to be close to Jesus, be with the poor,” says Terry Flood, creator and director of Jubilee Jobs (JJ) since 1981. Today, JJ is one of the longest serving, best non-profit workforce development providers for those considered hard to serve in the Greater Washington Area.

Terry grew up in a middle class Chevy Chase family, attended public schools and graduated from American University where she became interested in social action and justice. This led her to The Church of the Saviour where each parishioner is required to join a mission group designed to address a place of need in the world. After the 1968 riots, Terry helped raise money for Jubilee Housing, where she worked until the 1981 recession when residents lost their jobs and became hungry for employment. Jubilee Jobs was born with a desk, two chairs, a phone and a job counselor to help focus on job preparation, placement, retention and career advancement. This remains the core of its mission today.

Terry says,” We always are looking for the strengths and the good inside the people who come to us for help. We want the personal connection not possible in big training organizations. My best example this week is Samantha, the daughter of our very first applicant. She worked hard with her job counselor and in the small community groups we provide to help our people stay on track. Samantha has obtained scholarships and will start The University of the District of Colombia this fall. The Samanthas keep me going as I see our work paying off generation to generation.”

Terry and I became friends at a Bible study group. Her enthusiasm for her work and ability to relate it to Jesus’s teaching convinced me that I was ready to add one –on- one ministry of presence to my volunteer work.

JJ offers several opportunities to help – becoming a job counselor’s assistant to walk applicants through the employment process including resume writing and on line applications, becoming a mock interview partner or leading workshops. I chose the latter and have been teaching “Eyes on the Prize” twice a month for a couple of years.

This last workshop before applicants begin interviewing for entry level jobs highlights specific steps for goal setting, practical ways to keep focused with deadlines and also a time to write down dreams as in Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. The message: Each applicant has strengths and skills this city needs! Dr. King said, “ Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Before we begin, I learn and call each person by name for the rest of the morning. I feel personally transformed as participants openly share their determination to move up with faith, hope, a positive attitude and humor despite rock bottom stories of survival. I learn from them what it means to face all sorts of sabotage from self and others and to keep on keeping on. It helps that I’m speaking from personal experience (most of my family members and I have struggled with job loss) so that it’s not about them separate from me but rather all of us in exploration together. JJ clients teach me how to look for Christ in each person as sparks of wisdom, new ideas and strategies ignite everyone in the room.

Feeling like I always receive more than I give at JJ, it was natural to join St. Columba’s, (Washington, DC) “Light the Fire” initiative and start a SPARK group where fellow parishioners could experience God’s grace and become re-energized and connected working together on a Christian mission. Our group is engaged in a process unfolding with prayer and thoughtfulness rather than concern about the end result. There are currently nine of us who have met since March, visited Terry’s orientation program, sat in on workshops and benefited from St. Columba’s “Light the Fire” SPARK resource material in thinking about how we can be most useful. Presently we are planning an October Saturday morning training and participation as mock interviewers at JJ.

SPARK member Kay Tatum has provided our group’s most exciting development – inspiring her law firm to provide on site training classes in developmental and technical skills once a month to clients of Jubilee Jobs. In preparation for September’s highly successful first class, several of her firm’s trainers and other human resources personnel attended a JJ orientation and their recruiting manager began working with JJ staff to plan the classes for clients who want to move up from their entry level jobs. Our SPARK group has helped fuel JJ’s more intentional focus on this move- up program. The firm’s HR Director said, “This work is becoming a ministry to us.” We have expanded our circle.

It is always fun and rewarding to volunteer with my husband, Jay, but our connection with other parishioners in this endeavor has added spiritual depth and clearer intention to our work with JJ. I envision our SPARK group creating a circle of light radiating out from St. Columba’s to Jubilee Jobs as we come to know and respect staff and participants. In turn, this amazing place, these people, complete the circle and reflect the light back on our church.

As one member noted, “The Christian service with Jubilee Jobs is a means to experience fellowship at Saint Columba’s – to have other parishioners know me and call me by name.

Margaret M. (Peggy) Treadwell is a psychotherapist, columnist and teacher in the Washington, DC area. She is co-editor of “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix,” by Edwin H. Friedman.

*This article was originally published in the October 2012 newsletter of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C.

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