Finding a job is hard. Managing your finances when you face paycheck insecurity is even harder. The Steps to Success committee believes that every adult has a right to uncover their own unique path to independent successful living, and these are the issues the Steps to Success committee helps to solve through education, guidance, and an empathetic ear.
To help make this right a reality, the committee helps people from a variety of marginalized backgrounds, including the recently homeless, youthful offenders, recent immigrants, and women and children fleeing situations of domestic abuse, improve their job preparedness and financial literacy skills. It does this work through partnerships with seven very different community partners, each of which present their own distinguished set of opportunities and challenges.
Participants’ skills are honed in small group workshops, where clients are afforded the opportunity to learn skills such as resume writing, interviewing, networking, personal finance decision making, budgeting, establishing and protecting personal credit and more. These lessons often have a major impact on clients’ lives in a relatively short period of time.
These lessons are particularly useful, as many of the clients the committee serves are women eagerly looking to improve their own circumstances. Through the efforts of committed and present NYJL volunteers, the committee continues to advance the NYJL’s commitment to improving the New York City community, and as a result of their shared goal of progress, program participants respond extremely well to working with the women of the NYJL.
Despite these strong ties between the program’s participants and the women of the NYJL, the pandemic brought about major challenges. Many of the committee’s clients lost jobs, childcare and housing opportunities, making the committee’s community partners more vital than ever. The Steps to Success committee maintained regular touchpoints with clients and partners, pivoting as needed to best serve their needs.
Because the Steps to Success committee’s community partners span a wide range in education level, socioeconomic status, and most importantly, access to technology, the committee employed a variety of different mediums to adjust its programming to the pandemic in 2020.
For several of its community partners, including the Manhattan Family Justice Center, Avenues for Justice, and the English Speaking Union, the committee was able to transition to virtual workshops with breakout sessions that served as a one-on-one touchpoint for volunteers and clients to connect. For its less-connected partners, specifically Homeward NYC and Urban Pathways (both of which serve formerly homeless communities), the Steps to Success committee bridged the technology gap by creating informative packets about various topics of instruction. The committee also created resource kits with personal care items and PPE to ensure that it was meeting both its clients’ educational and personal needs.
Finally, the committee also permanently solved technological connectivity issues with Urban Pathways and Opportunity Network by donating technology like Kindle Fire tablets, headsets, and WiFi hotspots so that NYJL members could connect with Steps to Success clients virtually, host online workshops, and provide clients with online job application capabilities.
Helping clients with the online job application process was of critical importance, as in the committee’s work with Urban Pathways, a housing and social services organization for the recently homeless, many clients expressed that they had never applied for jobs online, which was the only option available during the pandemic. To solve this challenge, the committee creatively reworked its curriculum to focus on base internet presence needs, like creating an email address and logging on to virtual job boards.
The pandemic did, however, have a silver lining for the committee’s programming. In its work with Manhattan Family Justice Center and English Speaking Union, the committee saw spikes in workshop attendance, as clients no longer needed to be on-site to connect with NYJL volunteers. The committee also helped its volunteers navigate the pandemic, providing them with an opportunity to disconnect from the crazy world around them and dive into a unique one-on-one opportunity to make an impact.
The Steps to Success committee has big aspirations for 2022. Its members are striving to revamp the committee’s training and curriculum to address the ever-increasing online workforce. They are also working to connect more intimately with their community partner counterparts to better explore the emerging needs of their organizations and hope to continue to increase their internal learning and development opportunities to better address the professional questions and needs of the committee’s volunteers. Finally, while volunteering has remained in-person, the committee can’t wait to resume other activities, such as social events and NYJL engagements, in-person over the next year as COVID-19 regulations allow.