Rudy Martinez, who has been a client of National Able Network for about a year and a half, says the agency has helped him “make up for lost time” after having been incarcerated for 24 years. He has used NAN’s services at both the Evanston and Skokie locations.Submitted photo

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National Able Network (NAN) is a non-profit agency offering federally-funded services through the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and serves both job seekers and employers. It has five offices in the Chicago area, one of them on the third floor of the Evanston Public Library.

NAN occupies a modest-sized partitioned space down a small corridor. The office might go undetected by library patrons, except for those inquiring at the third floor information desk.

The mission of NAN is to “help make careers happen,” and the free program is open to the unemployed, career-changers, military veterans and people of all backgrounds, ages 18 and older.

Nationally, the agency’s clients include job seekers in Illinois, Indiana, Delaware, Iowa and Nebraska — more than 75,000 people annually. The roots of the organization go back to 1977, when it had a different name and narrower scope, providing training and technical support to Chicago-area agencies that served older job seekers. Today, the agency offers a wide variety of work-readiness services, all customized to the client’s needs and focused on self-sufficiency through sustainable employment.

“We provide wrap-around services to clients,” said Matthew Daigler, Program Manager of the Evanston-located agency. “Each client works with a job career coach who guides and supports him or her through the process of employment readiness. We help clients as they develop an individual career plan that starts with their goals. Initially clients attend a one-hour orientation offered at the Evanston Library location on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month. Orientations don’t require registration, and there isn’t a fee.” For client convenience, orientations are also held at three other Chicago area locations (more information at or 312-994-8390).

Orientation sessions cover client eligibility, services and enrollment and are the first step in clients’ getting the education, training and supportive skills necessary for success in the labor market.

Mr. Daigler says eligibility for workforce services is straightforward, and services are accessible to all who qualify, although “the priority is for providing career and training services to low-income and skills-deficient people.”  

Working with a career coach and attending NAN’s monthly 2-day JUMPSTART sessions helps clients define career goals, write or update a resume, develop a strong professional online profile and prepare for job interviewing.

When clients have identified a career goal, they can apply for a training voucher that translates into tuition for classes or workshops offered by various providers.

Targeted training is available for jobs and careers within the categories of health care, business or professional services, information technology, manufacturing, culinary, retail, hospitality, transportation and construction.

According to the website, “85% of clients enrolled in NAN programs gain employment within seventeen weeks, compared to national statistics of unemployed job seekers taking fifty-two weeks.” Even after clients have secured employment through NAN, a career coach follows up for several months to assess the client’s employment status and job satisfaction.

National Able Network is both a provider and a referral agency for services. It operates several programs tailored to specific populations: Veterans Forward helps people who have served in the military translate their skills into today’s civilian jobs; and the Senior Community Service Employment Program assists older job seekers in updating their skills and finding employment suitable to their current needs.

Job-seekers with disabilities that would impact employment and those needing GED help are referred to other places for targeted services. One population of job seekers who often encounter employment obstacles – the formerly incarcerated – are welcomed as clients.

When Rudy Martinez came to National Able Network in fall of 2017, he carried a letter explaining what he had been doing for the past 24 years. It was a letter signed by President Barack Obama commuting Mr. Martinez’s mandatory life sentence in a federal penitentiary for drug offenses. Despite an understandable anxiety about re-entering a world from which he had been separated for two and a half decades, Mr. Martinez knew he was in a better place than most people in his circumstances.

He had a loyal and loving family, had had encouraging support and regular contact with his eighth-grade teacher throughout his imprisonment, had completed more than 200 programs while incarcerated and was highly motivated to achieve, had post-incarceration support from the Safer Foundation and took full emotional responsibility for the actions that landed him in prison.

“I needed to get work to cover my basic expenses as soon as I left prison, and the first jobs I could get were as a mover and maintenance worker. But I wanted something better for myself. At NAN I participated in workshops like resume-writing and interviewing strategies – and started working with a career coach.  When I saw the options for jobs that would let me be eligible for tuition-free job training, I decided to go for the Commercial Driver Certification,” said Mr. Martinez. Funding for that highly popular training program had temporarily expired and would require his waiting some months until the funding was renewed.

Mr. Martinez, however, has not been wasting any time while waiting. He is currently working full time as a cargo driver, making daily runs to the airport. He also has a part- time job at La Casa Norte, cooking dinner and mentoring a group of young adults who have experienced homelessness. For more than two years, he was a part-time caretaker for his now-deceased former teacher. He received certification as a fork-lift operator, has been the recipient of a tuition grant to complete his second year towards an Associate Degree in Social Work at Oakton Community College, has secured a credit card and is building up his credit and enjoys time with his two adult sons and their mother. “My career coach from NAM stays in touch with me and has been amazing,” said Mr. Martinez. “I’m grateful, and I’ve recommended NAN to three of my friends.”

Because services are government funded, Job seekers who want to take advantage of National Able Network’s extensive services will need to provide proof of the following: birth date, social security number, authorization to work in the U.S., current address and unemployment insurance or income.

Judy Chiss

Judy Chiss has been a feature writer at the RoundTable since 2007 and especially enjoys writing about interesting happenings in the schools, as well as how our local not-for-profits impact the community....