HIRED Staff Receive Two Prestigious Awards

HIRED’s staff walked away with two prestigious awards at the 2014 Joint Counselors Training hosted by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Lenore Rockler won “Dislocated Worker Counselor of the Year” for her dedication to assisting laid-off workers in finding new employment. Among her many accomplishments, Lenore served 232 clients last year, 130 of which found jobs.

HIRED’s FAST collaborative won “Exceptional Performance by a Team” for its outstanding outcomes assisting families on MFIP in Ramsey County. FAST includes five partners (HIRED, Goodwill/Easter Seals and the Working Well Mental Health Clinic, Open Cities Health Center, People Incorporated and Ramsey County Workforce Solutions). According to the FAST nomination, “FAST Team Work goes beyond ‘agency partnership’ and is greater than the sum of their component parts. The strong relationships among the staff from multiple disciplines, has resulted in clients engaging at a higher rate in job search than in the past. As a result, the number of clients securing and maintain employment has increased.”

HIRED’s FAST team includes Sara Jelinek, Joan Anderson, Jessica McIntosh and Amelia Walicke.

Congratulations to the big winners!

Pictured below are Nancy Olson and Lenore Rockler (left) and the FAST team (right).

FAST Award June2014 Lenore Award June2014

President Obama Pays a Special Visit to HIRED

On June 27th, 2014 President Obama paid a special visit to an unsuspecting group of HIRED participants during his recent trip to Minnesota. ProjectCARE, the focus of his visit, provides customer service training to young mothers on public assistance.

“I didn’t believe he was coming,” shares one participant. “All of a sudden, I look up and there’s the President of the United States right in front of me!”Strib Pic 2

President Obama spent a few minutes asking the young women what they’ve been learning in class before sharing his own story of growing up with a single mother. “We all start in different places,” he told the young women before encouraging them to continue with their customer service training and career goals.

At one point, the young women had an opportunity to quiz the President. One participant asked, “As President, if you could get one thing done by the end of today, what would it be?” The President responded with immigration reform to make it easier for people to come to the United States, early childhood education and affordable child care.

ProjectCARE is a collaborative effort funded by the State of Minnesota Department of Human Services and Greater Twin Cities United Way Women’s Giving. Additional partners include the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency and Intermediate School District 287.

For additional photos from Obama’s visit, please visit HIRED’s Facebook page:

For a video of Obama’s visit, please visit

I’m Here, I Have the Skills, I’m Ready to Work – Esmeralda’s Story

Esmeralda & Andrea

Above: Andrea (HIRED) and Esmeralda

Esmeralda Reyes-Pliego ‘s childhood was riddled with loss and abuse. At only eight-years-old, she was left to care for her younger sisters in Mexico while her mother found work in the United States. Their guardian at the time was an abusive aunt who made life hard on the girls. “She was using the money my mother sent for other purposes. My sisters and I were abused, and on the nights she’d bring boyfriends home, my sister and I would lie in bed awake and scared.”

When Esmeralda’s mother learned of the abuse, she began working multiple jobs until she earned enough for Esmeralda and her sisters to move to Minnesota. Unfortunately, life was still challenging. “I ended up leaving school at 17 to get a job and help support my mom and my sisters,” said Esmeralda, “That’s when I realized that I couldn’t spend my whole life working for minimum wage or less.”

Esmeralda was a caretaker by nature, and went back to get her GED and soon enrolled in a Certified Nursing Assistant program at Hennepin Technical College (HTC). Through HTC’s partnership with HIRED, Esmeralda met Andrea, who became her career counselor. “Every week, Andrea came to our class,” shares Esmeralda, “She told us how to do a professional resume, how to have a successful interview, how to put our ideas together, and how to present them.”

To help Esmeralda quickly find a job once she graduated, Andrea recommended that she volunteer for a local health care clinic. Despite her busy schedule, Esmeralda took Andrea’s advice. “Being married with two young daughters, it was hard going to school while I was working 50 hours a week. I only slept four or five hours a night. But I was determined to make it work.”

Fortunately for Esmeralda, all of her hard work paid off. After graduating from the Certified Nursing Assistant program at HTC, Esmeralda went immediately to her volunteer supervisor at St. Gertrude’s and said “I’m here, I have all the skills, I’m ready to work!” Her resume was moved to the top of the pile, ensuring she got an interview. The day before her interview, Andrea and Esmeralda met to run through a list of interview questions. “In my real interview, they asked me like 20 questions. I could say that 70 percent of them I had prepared for with HIRED.”

That same day, Esmeralda got the job.

“I went from working for less than minimum wage at a restaurant to making $14.63 an hour plus benefits. I want my daughters to work hard in school and I want them to see their mother working a professional job. When they see what I’ve been through and how hard I’ve worked, they won’t have any excuses!”

A Helping Hand – John Hernandez’ Story

John and Rachel

Above: John and Rachel (HIRED)

John Hernandez lost his mother to a heart attack at a very young age, leaving him without the love and support of a caring adult in his life. “My older brothers took it really hard, but not me,” shares John, “When I realized after about a week that she wasn’t coming back, I just moved on. I got together with some of my friends and we became gang bangers. I didn’t care about anything or anybody. I had no feelings.”

John and his friends were dangerous and violent. From drinking and breaking into cars to fighting random people on the street, he was headed down a destructive path. “I knew the road I was going on wasn’t going to end well. It was either going to end with me in prison or dead.”

Not happy with his life, John moved to Minnesota as a teenager for a fresh start. He enrolled at Burnsville High School where he met Rachel, a HIRED youth employment counselor. Rachel became one of the only caring adults in John’s life; she provided guidance and compassion, helping John to get back on his feet. “She was so nice—she was working to help me out right away. She helped me get an internship at T.J. Maxx and she checked up on me and made sure everything was going okay.”

Getting an internship provided a boost of confidence for John. He was expected to show up for work on time, learn new job skills, and work as a part of a team. John’s success on the job extended to other areas of his life. He received straight A’s during his last year of high school, moved into an apartment, and found a full-time job with a local retailer. He’s also been sober for eight months. “I feel like a better person in general,” shares John, “I’m not out hurting people anymore. I’m not out fighting.” With a long-term goal of helping other teens turn their lives around, John continues to work hard and stay positive.

“What I appreciate about HIRED is that it’s people helping other people. They’re not there to judge you or look down on you. They’re there to help dust you off and put you on the right track. They’re just a helping hand.”

ProjectCARE Underway

This past summer, Greater Twin Cities United Way WINGs awarded HIRED with a $60,000 grant to provide young mothers with customer service training. We’re proud to report that our first ProjectCARE class has graduated and is well on its way to success. Of the three young women who graduated from class, two have earned the National Professional Certification in Customer Service and the remaining participant found a job prior to her test date. We are continually impressed by our participants’ accomplishments, and are grateful to all of our partners who made this project possible.

Alvita Lynch, a 25-year-old mother of two, is a great example of the power of collaboration. Alvita joined ProjectCARE because she struggled to stay motivated in her job search. Looking for a change of pace and a new direction, Alvita’s employment counselor recommended customer service training. “When Alvita first came into my class, she was very quiet and reserved – almost cautious about being in the classroom,” shares Tanya Dyer, ProjectCARE Senior Trainer. She continues “It was great being able to watch her open up as the weeks went by. She started to recognize her strengths and her growth areas; she is incredibly warm and caring. Alvita was such an asset to the classroom experience.”

During Alvita’s four-week customer service training, she learned fundamental customer service skills including effective listening, non-verbal communication, phone etiquette, handling difficult customers and meeting supervisor expectations. As a part of the series, Tanya also spent a week teaching job search basics and provided hands-on support as young mothers looked for jobs and completed job applications.

Aside from funding the project, WINGs members have provided business expertise to ProjectCARE as well. In fact, Meredith Heerey, Human Resources Business Partner for Lunds, played a key role in getting Alvita a job interview with the store manager in Wayzata. Using this professional connection as well as the skills she learned in ProjectCARE, Alvita nailed the interview and was quickly hired on.

Alvita has been working at Lunds for more than a month now, and enjoys interacting with customers. She even recalled a recent situation with an impatient customer where she had to draw on the customer service skills she learned in class. “I just had a positive attitude and smiled,” describes Alvita. She’s hoping that within the next couple of months she can begin working full-time.

“I would recommend the [customer service] class to anybody. The whole community would be better if we all had customer service training!”

HIRED 1-Minute News Flash

October 17, 2013

Youth Programs Honored

HIRED was recently awarded “Outstanding Service to Youth” by the Minneapolis Employment and Training Program (METP) for helping more than 100 teens stay in school, earn vocational credentials and build early work experience. Each participant received one-to-one academic support and career planning, as well as help navigating challenges at home and in school.

HIRED received the prestigious award after earning an “A” grade last year from METP. We’ve been serving youth since 1970, and currently have youth counselors at local schools, correctional facilities, transitional housing organizations and state workforce centers.

Says Jan West, HIRED Sr. Program Manager, “We’re all very excited about the award. The youth who come to us for help are struggling at home, in school – our counselors are often the only adult voice telling them not to give up. I’m very proud of our team of counselors.”

Banker Group Visits HIRED

Peter Heegaard, former trust banker and founder of Urban Adventure, recently brought a group of 25 banking professionals to HIRED to learn about workforce development. Urban Adventure provides an urban-based educational experience for up-and-coming business leaders. Participants tour nonprofits to study the issues affecting impoverished communities, including ways they can become involved and make a difference.

The group spent an hour with Jane Samargia, HIRED executive director and Kari Felegy, HIRED associate director of youth programs, to better understand the problems facing thousands of low-income families in our community.

“It’s not every day we see a large group of bankers come through our doors,” says Kari, “It was quite an experience to describe the challenges our participants face on a daily basis. My hope is we’ve made them more aware and inspired them to be a part of the solution.”

Heegaard shared that Urban Adventure is in its 16th year and he always looks forward to visiting HIRED. As a former HIRED board member and long-time supporter, he is very familiar with the comprehensive assistance HIRED provides to low-income individuals and families in the Twin Cities.

Meet our VISTAs

Tenzing Tunden is a job development specialist at the East Bloomington office. He is a recent graduate from the University of Arizona and relocated to the Twin Cities from Southern California. His professional goals for the next year are to build on his marketing and sales skills. He would also like to gain more insight into ex-offenders and the realities they face upon reentry into society. Tenzing’s primary duties will be building relationships with employers and organizing and implementing job fairs.

Alyssa Whalon is a business development and outreach specialist at HIRED’s office in North Minneapolis. She graduated from Missouri State University and relocated to Minneapolis from Kansas City, MO. During Alyssa’s year with HIRED, she will be working with the sector programs. Her primary goals are to draft outreach plans to engage additional trainees and employers in sector program initiatives then implement those plans. She’s looking forward to gaining more skills in marketing and helping build a sustainable marketing and development plan for the sector programs.

Mandy Cornell is the Marketing and Communication Specialist for HIRED’s sector programs. Her responsibilities are to develop fresh marketing materials and communication strategies. She received a BA degree in Communication, Media, & Rhetoric and History from the University of Minnesota Morris. Mandy supplemented her education by developing informational videos for small nonprofits and by working as an intern for the Minnesota 4-H Youth Organization. She enjoys the challenges and opportunities presented by HIRED and AmeriCorps, and plans to pursue a career in developmental communications and in illustrating children’s books.

Thank You Xcel Energy

Photo of students at tables completing assignmentsThis week Xcel Energy awarded HIRED a generous $10,000 grant to provide job search and workplace readiness assistance for individuals who are long-term unemployed.

“This grant will help us serve nearly 100 people.  All of them have been without jobs for many months, or even a couple of years, despite their attempts to find work,” said Nancy James, Director of Workforce Services.  “We’re so thankful that Xcel Energy recognizes the special challenges faced by people who are long-term unemployed, and for lending their support to specialized services that we know can get them back to work.”

Recent statistics from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development indicate that the number of long-term unemployed individuals in the state has increased 274% since 2007.

Xcel Energy is a long-time financial supporter of HIRED’s programs for disadvantaged job seekers, with several representatives from the company having served on the organization’s employer advisory boards.

Networking Under the Big Tent

Pictured are Rachel Vilsack and Adrian Shaheed, with the Hennepin South WorkForce Center in the background.Today, HIRED’s Adrian Shaheed and Rachel Vilsack from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development led a networking workshop as part of the First Annual Big Tent Career Fair.

The workshop gave job seekers tools for uncovering employment opportunities in the “hidden” job market through creative networking strategies.  Adrian and Rachel met while networking, proving that connections made through networking can lead to lasting business relationships.

The Big Tent Career Fair was promoted as the summer’s biggest community job fair in the Twin Cities and held at the Hennepin South WorkForce Center in Bloomington.   The event was sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and the Hennepin South WorkForce Center.

Adrian works as a Business Development Coordinator at HIRED.  Rachel is Regional Analysis and Outreach Manager in the Labor Market Information Office at DEED.

House Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs Visits HIRED

Pictured at HIRED’s office in the Sabathani Community Center in south Minneapolis are, from left to right:  Representative Ryan Winkler (Committee Chair), HIRED Executive Director Jane Samargia, Representative Susan Allen (who represents citizens in the neighborhoods nearest Sabathani) and HIRED Program Manager Barbara Doyle.

Pictured at HIRED’s office in the Sabathani Community Center in south Minneapolis are, from left to right: Rep. Ryan Winkler (Committee Chair), HIRED Executive Director Jane Samargia, Rep. Susan Allen (who represents citizens in the neighborhoods nearest Sabathani) and HIRED Program Manager Barbara Doyle. Rep. JoAnn Ward also attended the meeting.

Today, members of the Minnesota House of Representatives met with HIRED staff members and a client to learn more about the challenges of connecting people to family sustaining jobs in today’s economy.

David, a HIRED client, shared his story of finding his first job—at the age of 47—with help from HIRED.  HIRED’s leadership team discussed strategies used to help people find living wage jobs, including sector-based job training and supported work opportunities.  They also provided testimony about how current public policy both helps and hinders their efforts.

The Representatives are all members of the Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs.  Today’s meeting at Sabathani Community Center, also attended by members of the public, was one of several scheduled meetings the committee will continue to hold throughout Minnesota.  The purpose of the meeting was to receive “from the field” information from providers of employment and training services.

Committee members also heard from Dane Smith, President of Growth and Justice, about trends in demographics, workforce needs and economic development that have great potential to positively inform future workforce development policy.

Bringing Books and Learning to Young Families

HIRED staff members Kari Felegy and Kirsten Gulbro joined Minneapolis Rotary President, Sharon Bloodworth, for a recent grant award ceremony.Thanks to a generous contribution from the Rotary Club of Minneapolis, HIRED can purchase early childhood literacy materials for 100 low-income children in our Program for Academic and Career Excellence (PACE) initiative.

By helping young families to make books and learning a part of their daily activities, HIRED seeks to improve educational outcomes for the next generation.

Pictured at right, HIRED staff members Kari Felegy and Kirsten Gulbro joined Minneapolis Rotary President, Sharon Bloodworth, at a recent grant award ceremony.