BROKEN HEARTHS: Counselors chart a path back

For people who have lost their jobs, local assistance centers offer a range of critical services

jlynem@thetribunenews.comSeptember 18, 2010 

In the early 1990s, David Draggoo’s stress peaked when he lost his job as a draftsman, forcing him to choose another career in social services and his family to downsize to a smaller home.

He and his wife reluctantly explained to their children that they would have to make friends at a new school and that they may not have the nicest clothes. In the end, they got through it.

“What we decided to do was to be open and honest about it with the kids,” he said. “This was something we were all going to do together, tighten up things and make changes.”

But even his personal struggle with unemployment is no comparison to the strain that job seekers and their families face now, said Draggoo, an employment resource specialist at the Five Cities One-Stop Center in Grover Beach. He has worked for the county’s Department of Social Services since 1996.

Job seekers at the county’s three One-Stop centers, operated by Shoreline Workforce Development Services, have access to employment resources, job coaching, and networking opportunities — all under one roof — and in partnership with state and local agencies like social services and the Employment Development Department.

These days, Draggoo said, local residents are out of work for longer periods of time, and those professionals who typically have had success landing new jobs are finding doors closed.

“I’m 54 years old, and I have never experienced anything like what we’re going through,” said Draggoo, who has seen a marked increase in visits to the center in the past few months.

For instance, when UPS recently shut down its call center in San Luis Obispo, most of the workers had been solidly employed there for more than 15 years, he said.

Liz Repp, lead employment services specialist with Shoreline Workforce Development Services in San Luis Obispo, has noticed the despair among her clients.

“Their homes are in foreclosure, they are already in the shelters or they are moving in with family,” Repp said. “They’re in total panic crisis when they come to us.”

The disruption in clients’ lives can affect their ability to find work, she said.

“It’s not just employment but the whole realm,” Repp added. “People have to cross all these barriers before they become employees.”

Like coaches rallying their teams, employment specialists encourage people on the verge of giving up that it’s worthwhile to keep trying.

Last year, in response to a growing need for additional job-search assistance, Shoreline introduced a virtual One-Stop System — a computerized job search tool — and opened the Five Cities One-Stop in Grover Beach, said Kathy Marcove, employment services manager for Shoreline.

Shoreline and various agencies that work within the One-Stop system have benefited from millions of dollars in federal stimulus funding as well as grant money from the state, she said. Shoreline used the funds to hire two case managers and a job developer, and collaborate with Cuesta College to develop a class to train 50 people for jobs in California’s green technology industry.

Beyond job search assistance, many One-Stop specialists have become more deeply involved in their clients’ lives.

Given the severity of many of the clients’ situations, they often refer them to services for basic needs, ranging from food and rental assistance to mental health and child care.

Repp said she recently urged several couples in crisis to stay together, but ultimately they could not work it out.

“I spent an hour on the phone the other day with the families, and I told them, ‘You’re almost through this,’” she said. “But they said they couldn’t deal with it anymore.”

For Draggoo and his colleagues at the Five Cities One-Stop, their job is to reassure clients that they have the power to change their families’ circumstances. Five Cities recently added a new workshop to motivate discouraged job seekers.

“Many times, people feel hopeless,” he said. “One of the things we do best is to give them a sense of hope.”

Career advice

One-Stop Career Centers offer employment services at the following locations:

• San Luis Obispo, 903-1400

• Estrella Career Center, Paso Robles, 237-3014

• Five Cities, Grover Beach, 270-3100

Website: www.shorelineworks.org

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