USC students help homeless get job-ready through volunteer initiative
USCs Joint Educational Project connects students with volunteer opportunities helping the homeless; its part of the universitys commitment to reducing homelessness in L.A. County
Gloria Cheng is sitting in a back room at Chrysalis, a homeless organization off L.A.s Skid Row. She has a resume pulled up on the computer screen in front of her.
She turns to Dennis, 51, next to her.
So what type of job specifically are you looking for? Cheng asked.
Right now, he works a few jobs, mostly as a security guard. You mightve seen him at the Americas Got Talent auditions in Pasadena or at Rams or Trojan football games at the the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Hed like a steady gig. He likes driving, he said.
For the last couple of weeks, Cheng, 19, has been coming to Chrysalis to help with job-training services editing resumes and doing practice interviews.
Shes participating in a new homeless initiative of the USC Joint Educational Project, which aims to connect USCs student body with volunteer opportunities with homeless populations. Its part of USCs greater commitment to reducing and alleviating homelessness in Los Angeles County, where roughly 58,000 people experience homelessness on a given night, according to LAHSA.
Chrysalis seemed like a very unique program to me because it specifically targeted job retention which seems like a sustainable long-term solution for a problem that sometimes seems like it has no solution, said Cheng, a sophomore majoring in health and human sciences.
Connecting the dots
USC students show interest in working in the community but sometimes dont know how to go about it, said Brenda Wiewel, director of the universitys Initiative to Eliminate Homelessness. The JEP program can help connect those dots and it has a long history of running volunteer programs.
That way, students get some experience working directly with people who are experiencing homelessness, she said. They can also come back to JEP to reflect and get lots of support. Im happy with the results so far.
Dennis, who grew up in the south side of Chicago, has been using the services for the last week or so. After this, hell do a practice interview and meet with a job coach before heading to a security gig in the afternoon.
Im so tired of working three to four jobs at once, he said.
Today, hes dressed in a crisp white button-down shirt and navy pants. He carries a camouflage backpack, where he keeps his cellphone and a handwritten schedule.
Im ready to go. Ive got my tie, a smile and a good attitude, he said.
Dennis has been out of the country, living in Asia for the last 20 years. He moved there in the late 90s, reeling from the death of his fiancee, who was killed in a car accident. He returned in July when his uncle died and has to stay to settle his uncles affairs sell his house, pay his debts. Then hell return to his girlfriend, who is waiting for him in the Philippines. He sends more than half his pay to help support her and her family.
Hes currently homeless, sleeping at a shelter. But he said thats not the hardest part.
Im spending 20 to 25 hours a week commuting, like today itll take me an hour and 45 minutes to get to [my job], he said.
Theres also the clothes, like what hes wearing today. It all adds up.
You have to have black socks, black shoes shiny black shoes white shirts, ties, he said.
Having one job, versus jumping from gig to gig, would keep those costs down, he said.
Finding jobs for homeless people
Cheng beefed up Denniss resume, adding specific examples under jobs and skills, including software he knows and his experience in project management.
And then I just put fluent in both Chinese and Italian, she said.
Yeah, that sounds like an interesting dude, he said, with a laugh. I want to meet that guy.
Thats the goal, Cheng said, with a smile.
Dennis noted degrees from University of California, Berkeley and Arizona State University where he studied aeronautical engineering and business and, most recently, a degree from a Chinese university.
He asked Cheng what she wants to do. Shes thinking pre-med. At one point, he was thinking pre-med, too.
Time and attention
After the session, he tells Cheng he appreciates her help. He doesnt know if he could give this the time and attention that she did.
Cheng sometimes feels a bit out of her league doing these sessions, she said. Shes still new to the job world herself.
But Michelle Lopez of Chrysalis said thats not the point.
I can train anybody on resumes and practice interviews, right? said Lopez, the volunteer and program coordinator. What I cant train people is to be compassionate. I cant train them to be supportive. Thats something that has to be within them.
Cheng has no intention of ending her volunteer efforts when her semester program is over.
My two hours a week spent at Chrysalis make me feel less helpless in trying to solve the immense issue that is homelessness in L.A., she said. Chrysalis is a starting point for me to learn more about the issue from the people themselves, and help in a way that I know is productive.
This is the tip of the iceberg for me.