The day after grim unemployment rates were reported across the nation, State Senator Jeff Schoenberg and Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl ceremonially cut the ribbon for a service aimed at addressing unemployment: a partnership between the Evanston Public Library and the Workforce Board of Northern Cook County.

A third-floor room at the Main Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., will house the workNet center, which will offer job-search and career services. Similar services were offered at the Oak Avenue branch of the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), which closed its Oak Avenue office last year.

“It broke my heart when that [office] closed,” said Sen. Schoenberg, adding, though, that it had been one of the costliest offices for the State of Illinois to maintain. Last year, he and Mayor Tisdahl tried to avert both the closing of the South Branch Library and the relocation of IDES services by finding a way to combine the two in a single location. That idea did not work out – the South Branch was closed, and IDES left – but both have been reincarnated in Evanston: the private Mighty Twig (a private lending library) and the workNet space in the Main Library.

Sen. Schoenberg said the library facility was different from what he “had imagined [but] the North Branch [Library] is functioning well, and the Mighty Twig is functioning well. “We both felt very strongly that these services had to stay in the community,” said Sen. Schoenberg at the June 23 open house and reception.

“Unemployment continues to plague our community. … In a time of constricting public resources we had to be innovative and never lose sight of our goal. …What we’re here to celebrate is the [collaboration] between the Library and the Workforce Board of Northern Cook County. … The bottom line is that these essential services are available.”

Mayor Tisdahl said, “This is a much-needed asset that will serve the Evanston community well, and on behalf of the City of Evanston, I would like to thank Senator Schoenberg for all his efforts and hard work in making this happen. … He is the hero of this event. Jeff never gave up.”

Jennifer Stasch of the Workforce Board said, “This was an easy partnership … because of the leadership in the community.”

Finding space for the workNet relatively easy, said Library Director Mary Johns; it was formerly used for computer classes. “Having workNet here enhances our own services. The more partnerships, the more we can all do with what we have.”

The space will essentially be a career center with a greater depth of support services, such as career-coaching, computer workshops, computers for job search, job-readiness workshops, job-postings and individual assistance. Patrons of the center will also be able to learn about training opportunities and receive assistance with such tasks as conducting job searches and completing online applications.

WorkNet will attempt to lessen unemployment in Evanston through the Disability Employment Initiative, which will offer hands-on help for persons with disabilities in search of a job.

Disabilities resource coordinator of disabilityworks L.M. Pepper Curington told the RoundTable that her job as an agent is to provide assistance by working one-on-one with individuals in the job-seeking process and by reaching out to other resources and employers. Those who receive Social Security Assistance and have Ticket to Work are eligible for the five components of “Put Disabled to Work” under DEI, which include Integrated Resource Teams, Blending and Braiding Funds/ Leveraging Resources, Customized Employment, Asset Development Strategies and Partnerships and Collaboration. Once hired, agents also help patrons reach milestones in their jobs. Ms. Curington said, “Everyone with a disability has an ability, and I just want people to see that.”

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...