I-WORK employers, Housing Options representatives and community leaders attended the networking event at Boocoo on Aug. 22. Back row: Police Chief Richard Eddington, Matthew Douvikas of Greek Fire Grill, Ernest Wilson of Wilson Consulting, George Mettry of Habibi Restaurant, Jake Donnewald and Tracy Kuykendall of Veracity Employment, Matt Trewartha of State Representative Robyn Gabel’s office; middle row: Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite, Lisamarie Keskar of Tiny Dog Cupcakes, Chenette Tyler of Food 4 Less, Kambua Chema of Marshall’s, Alison Leipsiger of State Representative Daniel Biss’s office, Randy Usen of the I-WORK board; front row: Matthew McFarland, director of I-WORK; Ken Bennett of the U.S. Department of Labor; Housing Options client Kim Love Johnson, Rep. Gabel, and Amy Tran of I-WORK.

I-WORK, Housing Options’ employment program, is beginning to pay off in terms of participation and recognition.

The program helps Housing Options’ clients obtain work, through regular meetings with prospective employers. Since March, when the program began, “more than 40 clients have interviewed for jobs, and we’ve had 14 placements to date,” said Matthew McFarland, who directs the program.

“Employers and hiring managers meet every two weeks to talk with clients about interviewing skills, how to dress for an interview and what the workplace will be like,” said Mr. McFarland. Many of Housing Options’ clients have worked in the past and, as they are recovering from their mental illnessess, are returning to work, he added.

A networking/appreciation party held at Boocoo on Aug. 22 allowed employers, prospective employees, civic leaders and residents to mingle. Guest speaker Ken Bennett brought a message of admiration – from himself, he said, and from his friend and former boss, President Barack Obama. Mr. Bennett is Region V representative for the U.S. Department of Labor.

“What impresses me is the willingness of the participants [of I-WORK] to go out and keep looking for work,” said Mr. Bennett. “They show the same fortitude and heart as does [Housing Options]. … The president of the United States respects and appreciates your efforts.”

Mr. Bennett said he was “also impressed by the number of employers.” Businesses represented included Marshall’s, Greek Fire Grill, Food 4 Less, Tiny Dog Cupcakes, Habibi Restaurant, Wilson Consulting and Veracity Employment Services. “These employers are willing to look beyond stereotypes and these are strong, dedicated workers.”

“I believe the more folks who come out and meet you, the more you’re going to find that people will support you. On behalf of President Barack Obama, we commend you and we thank you for your work,” Mr. Bennett said.

“You guys rock,” Debbie Breitag, executive director of Housing Options, said to the I-WORK participants. You are taking a step … by going back to work. The employers are helping build stronger community. [All this] makes it a wonderful experience.”

Amy Tran, I-WORK employment specialist, echoed that sentiment. “The community of employers and local businesses has been fantstic.”

“The success of this program is the success of the community,” said Mr. McFarland.