Social services agency launches new empowerment center

The headlines show improvement on the job front but the help that people need to find work remains.

The Nevada jobless rate has dropped for 45 consecutive months. Recent figures released showed a 6.8 percent unemployment rate in Las Vegas that has improved substantially from 9.6 percent a year ago. But economists say it will be another two years before the state gets back to where it was jobwise before the Great Recession.

The needs are still there as evidenced by Lutheran Social Services recently launching its new Empowerment Center at 73 Spectrum Blvd. in Las Vegas to help train and assist their clients in returning to the workforce.

It’s a new holistic approach by Lutheran Social Services whose program is funded by 17 Lutheran churches in Las Vegas. The organization has operated a food pantry in Las Vegas for nearly 30 years. It also helps people with rent and utility bills.

“We have people who have been coming here four to five years,” said Derrick Felder, the organization’s marketing and development coordinator. “We realized we were constantly giving people food but we thought why don’t we teach them to get their own.”

Empowerment Center services include career and vocational training, online career search, job readiness skills, and employment documentation services. Classes are offered in resume writing, negotiation, interviewing and communication, dressing for success, budgeting and financial management.

“We teach them how to prepare themselves in this new age of job searching,” Felder said. “We found out they go to job fairs and 99 percent of them are told to go to a website and fill out an application. A lot of them don’t know how to fill it out online or go online to get it.”

Many of the clients don’t have Internet at home and the center teaches them simple skills of how to turn on a computer and how the keyboard and mouse operates, Felder said. Many don’t know anything about accessing Microsoft Office to write resumes or open Internet Explorer to access the Web or even create an e-mail account.

Since it opened, the fledgling center has served more than 120 people and helped at least seven find jobs, Felder said. The age of people served ranges from 18 to 66 with the bulk of people between 37 to 48, he said.

There’s been some people who’ve been on disability but want to return to work and others who’ve been out of job anywhere from six months to five years, Felder said.

Some need more skills to handle the jobs that are open. Others worked in areas such a construction where jobs haven’t rebounded in great numbers, Felder said. The center will help people, for example, obtain a certification to become a security guard and assist that person in applying for a job.

“We try to find something that has job openings that they would like and put them in training to get that certification and job so they won’t be relying on our services,” Felder said.

One of those services is helping people obtain birth certificates and identification to help them obtain jobs, Felder said. Many people may have lost their identifications because they’re homeless or were displaced from their home and need assistance to get it.

“It’s easy for people to walk into job training centers and seek out a job and say I need a job,” Felder said. “But they are worried about putting food on the table and paying my utility bill next month and we want to that barrier off them so they can focus on that true job search.”

The efforts of Lutheran Social Services are welcomed in Las Vegas because the needs continue despite a drop in the jobless rate, said Kathy Topp, spokeswoman for Goodwill of Southern Nevada that operates its own two Career Connections centers. It serves about 10,000 people a year and helped more than 2,000 obtain jobs in 2013.

“There’s a lot of need out there in the Las Vegas community, Topp said. “The unemployment rate is getting better, but it’s still not great. There are a lot of people out there that still need help and that doesn’t take into account the underemployed. A lot of times is what people need is a little bit of help and sometimes asking for help is hard. Help is out there whether it’s Lutheran Social Services or Goodwill. We encourage people to take advantage of the resources out there.”

Topp says there’s a lot of great places for people to turn for help, including places like Lutheran Social Services when people need help with food.

Goodwill, as well, offers assistance with transportation, rent assistance, clothing and even offers vouchers for its Goodwill stores. Some 700 people even work at its stores.

“When someone loses their employment, little things become big things,” Topp said. “It’s a struggle. What do I pay for? Do I pay for gas to go to a job interview or do I put food on the table?

“We want to put people in a position to not only get a job but to maintain a job,” Topp said.

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