Using Church To Help People Get Jobs: An Interview With Flourish Now

Volunteer Organization Provides Employment Opportunities In Partnership With Churches Across America

The organization Flourish Now has designed a unique program to help individuals find employment. They partner with churches to provide access to job fairs, while at the same time providing training programs to maximize their chances of gaining employment. Does it work? Over half of those they work with have found a full-time job within six weeks of attending a job fair.

WRN spoke with Gerhardt Kramer, Director of Job Fair Innovation, to talk about the program, it’s successes, and what makes churches so important in the process.

World Religion News: Can you tell me about the mission of your organization?

Gerhard Kramer: We ultimately want to enable job seekers to get jobs in their region. We use the church because it is one of the most powerful organizations in the world to help implement that. Right now, about two-thirds of churches will do something I would call a “hand-out” type of ministry, like a food ministry or a clothing ministry. But only about two percent of churches actually do any “hand-up” ministries, which are programs designed to help people become self-sufficient. Whether they offer training or assistance in getting a job, they’re helping people help themselves and that’s something we want to help churches do.

WRN: What do you think have been your most notable successes?

GK: Right now, the average job seeker will probably spend under 10 minutes at a typical job fair. At our job fairs, we usually see job seekers spending more than 30 minutes at our events.

This is partially due to the diversity of employers who come to our job fairs. It’s also due to the coaching we give job seekers as they walk through the door, helping them understand and communicate the reasons they came to the event. When people have a goal in mind, they spend less time “shopping” and more time actually looking for the employment they’re interested in.

This leads to our outcomes. We take a survey of job seekers at each event and, right now, 66 percent of our job fair attendees gain interviews from the events and 54 percent of those people are hired within six weeks of attending one of our job fairs. That’s a pretty big standard. We’re helping people get off the welfare rolls to become taxpayers, increasing their self-worth and worth to the community, as well.

“66 percent of our job fair attendees gain interviews from the events and 54 percent of those people are hired within six weeks of attending one of our job fairs.”

WRN: What tactics have made you so successful in being able to get people jobs and strategies for them in interviews?

GK: First of all, other job search companies typically host job fairs in hotels, so they have to find a hotel that’s big enough to facilitate their events. Unfortunately, hotels of this size are usually only found in major cities, so they can only hold job fairs there. Here in Los Angeles, for instance, they may be in Pasadena, downtown Los Angeles, Santa Ana, and Ontario. There are only five or six different locations they’ll use to host job fairs because these are the only places with hotels that can facilitate the events. But, by restricting their locations, they’re only reaching the same job seekers. You get the same job seekers over and over and over again, and you don’t expand the base types of jobs.

Instead, what we’re doing is using churches that are not generally used on weekdays and have big enough facilities, churches that are found in every community. Our focus is on neighborhoods and churches that are in lower-demographic and less-served areas. We find a church partner in that area and find a community that’s willing to open their doors. This helps us reach a brand new audience and saves job seekers from traveling 25 miles to go to a job fair. Instead, they’re only going to go five to ten miles and they’re looking at opportunities within their community.

“We find a church partner in that area and find a community that’s willing to open their doors. This helps us reach a brand new audience and saves job seekers from traveling 25 miles to go to a job fair.” A typical job fair runs what I call a “tidal wave.” A tidal wave is when the doors open and there’s a big wave of people walking in. It’s really only valuable to one person, the photographer or the event planner. They have a roomful of job seekers for the first half hour to an hour, which looks great. There are lots of conversations and it’s really loud, but it’s not beneficial for the employer, who wants to have a one-on-one conversation, or the job seeker, who relies on this informal interview.

Instead, we run our events using small groups of 20 or 30 people at a time. Before even entering the job fair, we bring these groups into a classroom and give them a chance to hear a short welcome and thank you from the hosting church’s pastor. After that, my team talks about walking into the job fair, giving tips on making an introduction and on the importance of visiting every booth. We’ve found that some people may see an organization, like a staffing agency, and say, “Oh, I don’t want to work for a staffing agency.” We help them understand the staffing agency probably represents 20 or 30 different kinds of companies and opportunities. And even if they aren’t looking for their particular skill set, the recruiter for that staffing agency would likely love to talk to them about other positions as well.

Another example is law enforcement. Sometimes job seekers see the recruiters in their uniforms, with a badge and a gun on their hip, and they think, “Well, I don’t want to be a police officer.” And I understand that only a small percentage of people do. But that law enforcement organization is probably hiring for other kinds of positions as well — 911 operators, auto mechanics, even administration — which you can only discover by talking to the recruiter.

So we explain to each group that it’s not about shopping. It’s not just picking and choosing the employer to speak to, but taking the time to find out what all these employers are hiring for. And through this, our job seekers are ultimately having better conversations and employers are meeting new people that may have passed over them without our coaching.

Finally, we also talk to them about the responsibility involved with looking for a job. It is their responsibility to grab a business card and follow up with that employer. Whether that’s a phone call, an email, or even a traditional thank you letter, it says, “Hey, we made a connection at the job fair and I want to make sure we continue the conversation that started.”

With these three things, our coaching changes both the dynamic of the job fair and the dynamic of the people who are coming.

WRN: You mentioned the ability of churches to use it as an alternate facility. In what other ways do you see the advantage of involving churches and pastors that help make Flourish Now successful?

GK: The church’s purpose is to reach out to its community and to share the gospel practically. There’s no better way for a church to say, “We care about your spiritual needs and want to introduce you to Christ, but we also recognize that you have challenges on the physical level.” We’re able to help the church have that opportunity to say, “We’re here for you. You may not recognize your spiritual needs right now, but we want to help you with your physical needs. If and when the time comes that you’re also looking for spiritual answers, we’re in your community and we’re here to help.”

“There’s no better way for a church to say, ‘We care about your spiritual needs and want to introduce you to Christ, but we also recognize that you have challenges on the physical level.’” Since these people have been to these churches and met with their pastors, they now have the opportunity to connect with their communities.

WRN: Some people who are incarcerated become religious or convert to Christianity. Does that make it more appealing for some people who might be hesitant to seek out help because Flourish Now appeals to their spiritual side?

GK: It’s a challenge for someone who’s been incarcerated and has a felony record to get a job. I think most of the people who come to our job fairs are coming, not because it’s church-related, but because they are looking for a job. It’s a cherry on the top when they realize, “Wow, this church opened their doors and offered this meeting.” It shows that churches are not just concerned with praying for the community and other spiritual efforts, but that they actually care and are willing to open their doors.

Using Church To Help People Get Jobs: An Interview With Flourish Now

WRN: Speaking of opening doors you’ve mentioned the program has expanded now into multiple different states. What does the future look like?

GK: First, a little of how I joined Flourish Now. I first hosted a job fair at my church in Rancho Cucamonga in 2012 because I had the skill set for it. I had worked for The L.A. Times for about 25 years and was in recruiting and marketing.

At that point, it was going to be one and done. I was never going to take this any further. But then pastors who came to our event found out about it and said, “We’d love for you to come and do this in our church.” Through this, the opportunity arose to host events in other churches and other denomination areas throughout Southern California.

I quit my day job and started doing this on my own from 2012 through 2017. Last year, a pastor friend of mine introduced me to Flourish Now, who began hosting job fairs out of Naples, Florida, in 2016. They were expanding into California and wanted to reach out to other areas, so I joined and began working to expand our events into multiple states. By the end of this year, I believe we will be in 18 different states and expanding even further. While our work will always depend on funding, the ultimate goal is to be in as many states as possible.

Using Church To Help People Get Jobs: An Interview With Flourish Now

We don’t receive any public funding whatsoever. We are a nonprofit ministry that is fully funded by individual donors, funders, and foundations who join with us because they want to use the church to help people get off welfare and we offer a powerful opportunity to make that happen.

WRN: Beyond helping people get jobs is there anything that can be done at a broader level to help facilitate that? For example, the “Ban The Box” campaign is to eliminate employers being able to ask job seekers if they have been incarcerated, unless it is relevant to the job.

GK: The “Ban The Box” idea makes a lot of sense for the person who served their time and may have been doing the right things for many years. I understand entirely where that’s coming from, but I think there are still some positions that a person with a felony record should not have. We probably don’t want to open the doors to everything. We probably don’t want them joining law enforcement or holding a gun anymore, for example. Or having a position in financial services. Because of the opioid crisis, we probably don’t want them dealing with medications. There are some areas that should perhaps remain that way, but there are others in which “Ban the Box” would make sense.

WRN: Have you worked with religions other than Christianity? For example, having job fairs in synagogues or mosques?

GK: Right now, we’re focusing exclusively on churches and reaching out to them on a consistent basis. This includes the evangelical world and a new partnership with the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese, which has been a brand-new venue and is an entirely different feel of reaching out.

WRN: And what do you mean when you say there’s sort of a different feel than working with the Archdiocese?

GK: Great question. When speaking with evangelicals, an individual pastor may be part of a denomination, such as an Assembly of God church or a Methodist church. In this case, I will inevitably be speaking directly to a bishop or a director of many churches who may recommend that I talk to a bunch of different churches that are under their care. But those individual churches and their individual pastors will still ultimately make the decision to host an event or not.

Whereas when working with the Archdiocese, it’s more of a top-down approach. We’ve been given a directive from the archdiocese to provide job fairs in local parishes across Southern California, so I get to pick the locations and they welcome me in. So it’s a little bit different. But it’s important to have the same purpose of reaching people and helping people. It’s just a different perspective of the way the process takes place.

WRN: Speaking with individual pastors who have more autonomy, does that change the job fair or is it standardized?

GK: Every pastor has their own feel. I do have pastors who will break open John 3:16 and approach the event as a “talk about Jesus” kind of opportunity. Then I have other pastors who are very open and say, “Hey, we just want to open our doors and we’re thankful that you’re here today. You probably live nearby and we just want to let you know that we exist and just want to bless you.” So it depends on the individual church, whether that’s a Catholic Church or an evangelical church. They all have their own methods and personalities that come out in the event.

WRN: You mentioned John 3:16. Are there Bible passages that you find inspirational about the organization or believe encapsulate your mission?

GK: That’s a hard one. I would say Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan, given when one of the priests went up to him and said, “Hey, what do I need to do to inherit eternal life?” He replied, “Love God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength. And then love your neighbor as yourself.” In this parable, the Good Samaritan helped a person on the side of the road and not only brought him to a safe place, but used his own money to take care of him, to try to reach out to this person.

If there’s one thing that encapsulates what we do, it’s our desire to love our neighbor. And if there’s a physically tangible way to say, “This is what the love of God is about,” that’s what we want to be able to do. The book of James also comes to mind. James references some of the stuff we are talking about. He talks about faith without works and asks what you are doing if you have no deeds. We can talk about how great we are as Christians, but what are we doing if we are not helping our fellow man and helping our neighbor? You show your faith by your deeds. It’s about what we do with the gifts that we’ve been given and how we reach our neighbor.

WRN: If someone reading this wants to volunteer or donate where can they find information?

GK: Our organization is Flourish Now. Our website is flourish-now.org and that’s where we have information about our upcoming events. We have job fairs throughout the United States and have so many opportunities for people to volunteer and help out. We also accept donations as well.

WRN: And pastors can donate their church to host a job fair?

GK: Absolutely. We are always looking for pastors who are looking to open their doors and show the community what they’re about. That’s why we’re hosting events. We offer a link on our website where pastors can get in touch to see about getting an event on our calendar.

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