Meet Four People Whose Lives Were Utterly Transformed by Finding Work

  • The 47-Year-Old Nevadan
  • The New York Mom on Welfare
  • The Homeless Woman on Parole
  • The 24-Year-Old Chicago Cook

The 47-Year-Old Nevadan

Meet De Ann Jensen, a Nevadan who had given up hope of finding work after the recession:

The 47-year-old Las Vegas resident lost her job as a construction administrator in January of 2014, and had been looking for work ever since. When her benefits ran out in July, she couldn’t make her mortgage payments anymore, and was forced to sell her home in a short sale and move in with her parents.

She’d spend hours on the computer applying for jobs, but noticed after a few months that employers had stopped even inviting her in for interviews. It didn’t take long to become mired in depression, staying in bed and watching TV, wearing pajama bottoms for days on end.

“I would sleep all day long, and say, ‘Why should I look for a job? I’m just going to get the ‘Thanks but no thanks’ letter.”

Thanks to a program specifically designed to help those who’d given up hope of returning to work, Jensen’s life has been transformed:

One day during the program, a speaker came in and talked to the group about shame. It hit everyone hard, Jensen said. So many participants had been ashamed of being unemployed, and had begun to feel hopeless. When they talked about these experiences, sometimes with tears, Jensen said, she realized she had to take control of her life.

She still has a while to go before things are back to normal—she makes $16 an hour, that’s less than she made in her old job. And she still lives with her parents and three cats, since she’s behind on her bills and can’t yet afford her own apartment. But she’s confident she’s on the way back up.“There would be days I wouldn’t get dressed, I wouldn’t open the blinds, I’d just sit there and watch TV,” she said. “Now I have a purpose. It’s so much better.”

From The Atlantic, February 10, 2015.

The New York Mom on Welfare

Meet Marshiela Radcliff of Syracuse, NY:

Radcliff was a stereotype: She is a single mother with seven children born in the span of a decade. She supported them collecting welfare for 20 years. She spent decades in a system where the message she said she heard was that she couldn’t work.

That all changed when she finally got the help she need to find a job:

A little more than a year ago, [she] learned to drive. She opened her first bank account. She bought a used minivan.

One thing made all of the others possible: After spending 20 years on public assistance, Radcliff got her first paying job as a certified nursing assistant. At the age of 35, Radcliff earned her first paycheck.

“All this stuff was at my fingertips?” Radcliff said recently, sitting on a couch in the sparsely furnished home she shares with six of her children. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know I could work… I didn’t know I could do that.”

Here’s the larger lesson:

Radcliff’s story highlights how small efforts that play matchmaker between open jobs and unemployed people seem to have lasting success. Radcliff finally got a job when someone told her “you can” and charted her way around specific obstacles that had been blocking her path for her entire adult life.

When that happened, doors Radcliff never knew existed were blown open for her and her family. 

From, March 10, 2016.

The Homeless Woman on Parole

Meet Denise Becker, whose criminal record was isolating her:

Becker moved to Benton County from Stockton, California, to stay with family a few years ago, but she and a family member soon had a falling out. With nowhere else to go, Becker became homeless. In January 2013, she was convicted of unauthorized use of a vehicle and sentenced to three years of probation.

She doesn’t try to hide what she did, but Becker said she is constantly ashamed that people won’t see her as anything more than a criminal.

I have a really low self-esteem about being on parole,” she said. “I feel like people know it when they look at me. Even though I know no one can tell, I feel like they know.”

But things have taken a turn for the better once she found a job:

Becker is a part of Corvallis’ Homeless Employment Launching Project, or HELP, which seeks to give the homeless and formerly homeless an opportunity to work and build a positive work history. The program, which is run out of the Corvallis Daytime Drop-In Center, is a zero-profit leasing agency that connects participants with small businesses and homeowners in need of odds-and-ends jobs.

About 40 participants work an average of 12 to 15 hours each week and earn anywhere from $10 to $15 an hour, depending on the job. ($2 from each hour goes to the program cost.)

She got the chance to work outside, a steady income, and a better shot at other work opportunities:

Becker said the program offers something even more valuable than money.

“I don’t have a background for working, so this is giving me work experience in something. And it’s also giving me hope,” she said.

And that’s something Becker hasn’t had in a long time.

“I’m on parole and it’s really hard for me to get a steady job,” she said. “It’s hard for me to interview with people and I feel like they’re not going to hire me because I’m on parole and that’s all they’re going to see.”

From the Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 7, 2016.

The 24-Year-Old Chicago Cook

Meet Lamont Herron, who thought he never had a shot at a really good job:

[He] can still smell the bubbling pots of soul food in the kitchen of his West Side home, as he huddled with his aunties while they cooked and cooked and cooked.

That’s where the dream began, around rich flavors in a poor neighborhood.

One day, he thought, I’ll cook for a living.

Clear of high school, Herron tried culinary college but couldn’t afford the books. He worked construction. Then came a charge for dealing drugs, an X on his back, and the best honest work he could get was handing out fliers on street corners.

Grim. Hopeless.

Until a call came with word of a program in Garfield Park — Inspiration Kitchens — a 13-week training course focused on cooking. Free.

Once Lamont got his shot, he made the most of it:

“I wanted it so bad,” Herron said. “I knew this was my chance. I called them every day until they let me in.”

That was six months ago. Now the 24-year-old has a full-time job at a noodle restaurant on the University of Chicago campus, and he’s a success story for Inspiration Kitchens, a unique program that placed a gourmet restaurant under the “L” tracks on the city’s West Side and turned it into a place of hope for people struggling to find work.

While the issue of how best to help the unemployed and the working poor is the subject of wide-ranging partisan political debate, Inspiration Kitchens boasts a 75 percent job placement rate and a holistic approach to improving the community at large.

During the hectic lunch hour behind the counter of Noodles Etc. in a University of Chicago food court, Herron has to move lightning-fast. But speaking to a visitor in a spacious, dark-wood-paneled university dining hall, he has a chance to reflect:

“I still feel like, ‘Wow.’ I spent two years looking for a job. It just seemed hopeless. Where would I be if I hadn’t gone through that program? I just don’t know.”

Herron looked up for a moment at the vaulted ceiling.

“Now,” he said, “it feels like I have a future.”

From the Chicago Tribune, February 4, 2012.