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Self-awareness is key to self-sufficiency at this job training program

For workers trying to break the generational cycle of poverty, keeping a job can be as important as getting the job in the first place. As part of our series Chasing the Dream, John Yang reports on a program called Cara in Chicago that teaches the personal attributes and soft skills needed to succeed.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    If you are poor in America, you likely know it's a condition that can create a cycle of struggle that lasts generations.

    As John Yang reports, to break that trend, it is not just a matter of finding a good job, but also keeping it. And new challenges can arise by having a steady paycheck.

    This story is part of our Chasing the Dream series on poverty and opportunity.

  • John Yang:

    At a job training and coaching program in Chicago called Cara, every morning begins with something called Motivations.

    Their goal? To ring that bell, a signal that they have gotten a job. Last October, Mariel Corona first sought help at Cara, which means friend in Gaelic.

    At first, she didn't think it was a good fit.

  • Mariel Corona:

    I was kind of sitting there and thinking, what the hell is going on? Why are people clapping? Why are people thinking? What does this have to do with job search? What does this have to do a professional development?

  • John Yang:

    Now that you have been through it, What does it have to do with job placement or professional development?

  • Mariel Corona:

    Everything. It was — transformations is what we go through the first four weeks of the Cara program. And it basically all begins with the motivations.

    It's pretty much working yourself from the inside out.

    That has had such a positive impact on my family. My life took on a new beginning.

  • John Yang:

    For most of the people at Cara, getting a job can be a new beginning. Unlike Corona, many have battled addictions or been in prison. Despite their differences, she found a common struggle.

  • Mariel Corona:

    We're all in the same boat as far as fixing yourself up and repairing yourself from the inside out, that we have all had — life throws a curveball to all of us, and maybe we didn't know how to cope or how to deal with it or just didn't want to overcome it.

  • John Yang:

    In her former job as a university administrator, Corona began going to work late and missing days altogether as she dealt with a family issue. She ended up getting fired, filling her with self-doubt.

  • Mariel Corona:

    When I was terminated, that was just like a punch in the gut. I just felt like a failure. I had never been terminated from any position before. I was pretty much a rock star in my jobs.

  • John Yang:

    And I imagine that that can't be a very good place to be looking a job. If you're not feeling good about yourself, you can't make a prospective employer feel good about you.

  • Mariel Corona:

    Exactly. You can't sell yourself, you know, because you're just selling a bunch of lies. You know, you're saying, oh, I'm very confident, I'm outgoing. And, no, you're not. You know, it's just — it's just on the surface.

  • John Yang:

    Now she's had three job interviews. On this day, she prepared for another one with a coach. She's regained her confidence and refreshed skills like resume building and time management.

    Most in the program are looking for their first permanent job. For them, Cara specializes in finding transitional jobs, entry-level positions to give them not only specific skills and work experience and a paycheck, but also the personal attributes they will need to hold a long-term job, what are called soft skills, like time management and handling conflicts with co-workers.

    There are similar programs in 25 other states. It's an idea that goes back to the Great Depression, when the New Deal Works Progress Administration, known as the WPA, hired the unemployed to build the country's infrastructure.

    Shovel-ready was the term President Obama used during the recession that began in 2008, infrastructure projects ready to go. Now it's seen as part of the solution to helping people facing the biggest hurdles to landing a job, a criminal background or a spotty employment record.

    Cara helps with both. The idea is, if a person can hold down a job for one year, they can find a job elsewhere. Their success rate? About 70 percent. The organization says that's higher than retention rates nationally.

    Maria Kim is the president and CEO of Cara.

    What's the bigger challenge, getting the job or holding the job for a year?

  • Maria Kim:

    You know, I really think it's keeping the job over the long term.

    Our focus in that first year of employment is combating all of the challenges that might come in the way, a housing situation going awry, child care going awry. Might — the negative actors in your life might emerge in a new way and tempt you again.

    You know we really need to be able to combat those new challenges.

  • John Yang:

    And so you take a very broad view of preparing someone for a job.

  • Maria Kim:

    We think of skills like love and forgiveness and conflict resolution as actually the harder skills. Others might think, oh, these things that you're talking about, time management, your self-esteem, all that stuff, those are the soft skills.

    We think of them as the harder skills, because if we can navigate those, than the rest of things become a little bit easier.

  • John Yang:

    How common is this sort of holistic approach?

  • Maria Kim:

    You know, we could always use more. Right? There are 600,000 people living below the poverty line in the greater Chicagoland area, just to give you a sense of the need here.

    But where the money is coming from for us is from private investors, private philanthropy, but also our own social enterprises. So, we own and operate our own for-profit businesses that help not just generate revenue, but create jobs for our folks as well.

  • John Yang:

    Those business, a street cleaning service and a temp staffing agency, are the first destination for many of the people who go to Cara. They also generate about 42 percent of the organization's budget.

    Emmett Hasey lives in a modest studio apartment with his wife of five months. They met at a Christian recovery mission. He spent more than a third of his 58 years in prison. He's overcome drug and alcohol addiction and has been clean and sober since 2010.

  • Emmett Hasey:

    I know that I didn't have to do things wrong to achieve the things that I want to achieve in life. And what I want to achieve in life is three things, food, clothes, and shelter. That's all I want, food, clothes, and shelter. Now, if I can get that, I'm happy. I'm happy with that.

  • John Yang:

    He has all three, and found love on top of it.

  • Emmett Hasey:

    When I go to work, I just love just to look up in the clouds and look at the scenery. There's a lot of beautiful things if you keep your head up in the sky.

  • John Yang:

    Hasey works for one of Cara's biggest partners, the Chicago Transit Authority's Second Chance Program. People with troubled pasts work a year cleaning buses and trains.

    Since 2011, about 250 participants have been hired by the CTA into full-time jobs such as train and bus operators. Some have even risen into management.

  • Emmett Hasey:

    What I gained from Cara is the opportunity. The opportunity changed my life. But you have to be able to prepare yourself, and you have to be able to be available to do the things that you need to be doing. They're an opportunity, but then you got to do the full work.

    If I keep just doing what I'm doing, in the end, something positive is going to come.

  • John Yang:

    It's hope for many people like Hasey who are trying to get back on their feet. Combined with good wages and social safety nets, transitional jobs like these are seen as keys to helping people get out of poverty and ring that bell of success.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang in Chicago.

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