NTJN Member Spotlight: Inspiration Corporation

By Jonathan Philipp, Policy and Research Assistant, National Transitional Jobs Network

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This month we caught up with Inspiration Corporation, an NTJN member in Chicago, to find out more about their employment programs. Inspiration Corporation serves 3,000 individuals in the Chicago area every year, providing meals, supportive services, housing, employment preparation and vocational training, and free voice mail! They also run The Employment Project and a food service training program, Inspiration Kitchens, that serves up a mean chicken sandwich.  Read on to learn more!

Q: Tell me about the Employment Project?

A: The Employment Project is a four week workshop to help homeless and low-income individuals throughout Chicago obtain and retain employment. The first two weeks of the program focus on the individual and their barriers and needs. This part of the program includes classes on self-reflection, goal setting, and even yoga as a meditational method to keep calm! The second two weeks of the program are more directly focused on the mechanic aspects of employment. We teach participants how to interview and offer mock interviews with volunteers that the participants have never met before to create the most realistic situation possible. After four weeks of training, the individuals meet with a career specialist to help write a resume and employment plan. The participants are encouraged to find a job on their own, but Inspiration has also partnered with employers to help find jobs. There is also the option to enter a transitional jobs program after completing the four week workshop.

Q: Your food service training program, Inspiration Kitchens, is providing skill-specific job training and employment placement in the food and restaurant industry. Why do you focus on the food industry?

A: When we were starting up we had a kitchen that was used to provide food for the homeless. The kitchen was not always being used and we wanted to put it to better use and give our participants real work experience, so we started Inspiration Kitchens! Inspiration Kitchens is a 13-week training program that trains through classroom and hands-on experiences. It’s more than just learning to cook that we offer though – individuals learn important skills including sanitation and safety classes, teamwork, following and taking directions, and learning how to interact with customers. We now have two restaurant locations open to the public, one in Uptown (Uptown Inspiration Kitchen) and another in Garfield Park (Garfield Park Inspiration Kitchen) – check out their menus and hours online and stop by for a bite to eat!

Q: What is the best dish on the menu this month?

A: At the Garfield restaurant, the fried chicken sandwich is amazing!

Q: Why do you think “on-the-job” training is important for the individuals you serve?

A: A lot of the individuals we serve have been out of the workforce for a long time. Transitional jobs provide a much needed opportunity for these individuals to get their feet wet again in the workplace environment. Most of the people who participate in the transitional jobs program are successful at finding full time employment. For those who have a difficult time, the transitional job is an excellent opportunity to learn why the individual is not ready for the workforce yet. Some of these barriers and needs do not come up in the classroom setting, so transitional jobs offer a great insight into the individual and help us to better prepare them to re-enter the competitive labor market.

Q: You offer a wide range of supportive services in concert with The Employment Project and Inspiration Kitchens, but also work with other organizations to provide additional services. What value do you see in this networking?

A: We are able to provide supportive services for small things, which are often seen as early barriers to employment, like getting proper identification cards, workplace equipment, and shoes. We then use our strong network to refer the individuals who need more intensive supportive services for drug, alcohol, or mental health support to the best services available for them. These more intensive supportive services are important to make sure the individual is able to obtain and retain employment. All the organizations are working for the same goal of ending poverty, but this is a big goal to achieve. Different organizations are specialized in certain aspects of reducing poverty so it is important that we all work together to provide the best services possible.

Q: One last question – you are the administrators of the community voice mail program in Chicago – sounds pretty neat! How does that program help individuals find employment?

A: The program allows individuals to set up their own voice mail box where employers can call them and leave messages. For an individual who is homeless, they would rather not give the number of their homeless shelter to an employer because then they will instantly know the individual is homeless and may be prejudiced against hiring them. Also, for individuals who have suffered violence and abuse, this voice mail is not associated with any place of residency, so if they do not want to be found no one is able to trace the voice mail to their location of residency. While offering voice mail may seem simple, by offering this service we are helping take down one of the many barriers to employment these individuals face.

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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

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