Every weekday morning, the three staff members at Jubilee Jobs of Lexington pray for the clients they hope to help find employment and for the non-profit agency they view as a ministry.
"I enjoy doing that," said Cary Plummer, Jubilee Jobs executive director. "We never know what God is going to bring in our door or what he is going to do to bless us today."
A few months ago, it was Dwayne Gary who walked through the doors on a Monday morning hoping to find work. He and others were attending a mandatory orientation session that is advertised as starting at 9 a.m. sharp, with doors locked.
All are welcome to the sessions, but, because Jubilee Jobs stresses accountability, no late-comers will be allowed in, Plummer said.
Gary is a student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College and he is also an ex-offender. While one description will eventually help him in his pursuit of a career, the other has proven to be a roadblock.
"Here I am, an exceptional student," Gary said, "and yet I could not get a job."
There were times when he had to seek help to pay his utilities and there were times he had been at the mercy of churches for food.
"I did whatever I could. When I couldn't get work and couldn't get money, the temptation was high" to turn to crime, he said. "It was always hovering over my head, but I kept refusing."
About a month or two after walking into that orientation session, Gary had a job that has restored his self-worth.
"Jubilee revived me," he said. "They delivered me. They saved my life."
Jubilee Jobs is a free, faith-based program that helps find entry-level jobs for people. About 70 percent of the agency's clients are ex-offenders, probably because that segment of society is the most disadvantaged in a job search, Plummer said.
"It might be a niche for us," he said.
But 30 percent of the people they help are not ex-offenders. They just need a job.
Jubilee gives people one-on-one attention with interview skills, conflict resolution and a professional résumé. But the clients must walk through the process as they are instructed.
Mondays are orientation. During that discussion, clients are told to get their job histories together along with any identification they will need to secure a job. Then they are told to call back on the following Monday to set up an appointment for an interview the next day with one of the two job counselors.
Many clients fail to do that, Plummer said. Either they find employment, or they aren't motivated to do the homework, or they have life issues that get in the way.
During that second week, clients are interviewed to learn their skill sets and desires on Tuesday. On Wednesday they attend a workshop with practice interviews. Thursday's session is in conflict resolution to teach them how to deal with problems that may arise on the job. And then they graduate on Friday with a polished résumé and maybe a job lead.
"We stay in touch," Plummer said. "We are not done with them. When they are a part of Jubilee Jobs, they are always a part of Jubilee Jobs."
In 2012, 500 people went through orientation, he said, and 474 signed commitment forms. Only 173 completed the entire program and of those 131 found work.
Earlier this year, my son landed a job through Jubilee after trying and failing on his own for about three months.
If clients find work, they are welcome back to sessions held throughout the year that offer advice on how to move up in the business. Some of the talks have been about attitude, some on record expungement and some on finances.
It is all about helping the community, Plummer said. Putting another person on a payroll helps with the local taxes and with the local economy.
And it breaks the familial cycle of poverty, said Max Appel, a member of the local outreach team at Southland Christian Church, and one of the founders of the Jubilee in Lexington.
Appel said he, Bill Rouse, an advocate for the homeless in Lexington, and Guy Huguelet III, the former owner of a staffing service, went to Washington, D.C. about three years ago to visit the original program, now in its 32nd year. All three men serve on the Jubilee board. Huguelet was the previous executive director.
At that time Appel was working with the homeless and working poor who were struggling to keep their heads above water. After talking, the three men realized a solution was more jobs.
"Until I had been working in the neighborhoods, I didn't realize how hard it was for some of them to get jobs," Appel said. People with criminal records would have to lie on their employment applications and risk being caught in that lie and fired later, or they would be turned away time and time again.
So the men visited Washington and asked to duplicate the program in Lexington. With some hesitation, the officials there agreed.
"We didn't have a clue what we were doing, but we just tried," Appel said. "It has really been good to see how God has let it grow."
Community Ventures gave them free office space to start, and donations from individuals and churches keep it going now.
Jubilee's budget is $160,000 annually, Plummer said, and it takes about $1,000 to get a client a job that pays $18,000.
"I would love to see more employers get involved," Appel said. "The Bible says the poor will always be with us, so we will never run out of folks who need help. But what we need are more employers who say, 'I will give then a chance.'"
Those employers are not easy to find, Plummer said. Jubilee has about 40 who notify them when a job is available, and Plummer scouts by phone and knocking on doors to find others.
"It is not easy," he said. "There is a stigma about someone who has been incarcerated and that is a shame. We all deserve a second and third and fourth chance. I ask my God to forgive me every day."
Gary is grateful for the second chance Jubilee afforded him.
"I followed through with everything they advised me to do," he said. "That was my turnaround."
IF YOU GO
Jubilee Jobs holds an open orientation session every Monday, excluding holidays, for anyone looking for work. Employers and volunteers are always needed.
When: 9 a.m. Doors are closed at that time.
Where: In the Community Ventures Corporation building, 1450 N. Broadway.
For more information and to donate: Call (859) 977-0135