Shaquan Whitfield shook a lot of hands Tuesday. She was told to shake firmly.
Whitfield, who once lived in a homeless shelter, was looking for a job. She and some 10 other new graduates of a job-readiness program called STRIVE were pitching themselves, handshakes and all, to potential employers.
The occasion was a career fair at STRIVE’s offices on Chapel Street. It was the culmination of a three-boot camp of workshops in a simulated workplace that Whitfield’s class attended there, learning tips on writing resumes and making eye contact, among other skills, needed not just to land jobs, but to keep them.
Justin Clark, another graduate, gave the program an “A plus” as he made the rounds at the fair. He said it succeeding in “building my confidence, talking with others, and teaching me about life as a man.”
The employers who showed up to the fair and heard the graduates’ pitches included Easter Seals Goodwill, the City of New Haven, Elm City Market, Yale-New Haven Hospital, Stone Academy, Gateway Community College, and Omni Hotel.
STRIVE, founded in 1984 in East Harlem, N.Y., opened a New Haven office in 2000. In addition to helping people find jobs, the program hones their computer skills, guides them to earning their NCRC (National Career Readiness Certification), and aids in finding housing or transportation. The New Haven program has 1,612 graduates, 1,223 of those graduates are now employed. Some 726 of them are ex-offenders. The program follows the graduates for two years to monitor their progress.
The students handed their resumes to employers and chatted with them at Tuesday’s fair, hoping for that call back for job interviews.
“The bulk of students qualify for entry-level jobs from environmental services to PCA (patient care associate) positions. Everyone was well prepared, and they had their resumes,” said Yale-New Haven human resources representative Sarah Kerihizan, “ although they could be more assertive and offer more information regarding their strengths.”
Diane Turner, director of Yale University Hiring Initiatives, described the fair as “outstanding.” Turner has worked with STRIVE for two and a half years. “I have not been disappointed, they are great to work with. I think they [students] have done homework on the areas they wanted to work in. They were receptive to critiques and approached with confidence with a clear sense of what they wanted to do.”
STRIVE employees know what it’s like to be unemployed – some came through the program themselves. Facilitator Matilida Bonilla, Resource Navigator Tanesha Lowe and Harford’s office Program Manager Ann Tramontanaveno are all STRIVE graduates.
“Totally impacted my life for the positive “ said Bonilla. “ I was out of work for a long time. It has transitioned me from not being employed to being employed. It impacts lives in a amazing way.”