Mildred Osbourne had never been unemployed for more than two weeks at a time until the recession hit hard in 1991. After being laid off from her accounting job at a law firm, the Leimert Park resident had no plan for getting back into the work force--until she came to JobStarts.
"I've gotten a lot of really good information here," Osbourne said. "They teach you to be more aggressive and smarter about getting work. I've learned to sell myself rather than expect some agency to just place me."
Osbourne, 52, who was attending a skills-assessment session, is one of the roughly 10 people per week who participate in the church-sponsored program, which offers Central Los Angeles residents job preparedness training and job-search help.
Operating out of a converted house at 3010 W. 48th St., on a lot in the back of the Crenshaw Christian Reformed Church, JobStarts' staff placed 237 people last year in full-time positions ranging from food service to store management.
"Having work really helps people develop a sense of self-worth," said executive director Glen Peterson.
Peterson, 36, has headed JobStarts since it was launched by a group of local pastors who sought to tackle high unemployment. It has a staff of five. With donations from various private groups, including Nestle Foods and the relief agency WorldVision, JobStarts opened its doors in 1989. It does not have to pay rent.
The program has three phases--a three-day workshop that includes mock interviews and reviews job-search techniques; an assessment of the participants' skills and matching them with appropriate positions; and a 90-day follow-up that charts the progress of participants placed in jobs, which averages 20 a month.
JobStarts' participants are diverse. Of 237 placed last year, 65 were receiving some form of public aid, 38 were formerly homeless and 27 were recovering alcoholics or drug addicts. Others, such as Osbourne, were skilled or professional workers.
About 25% of jobs secured by participants are low-skill, such as maintenance and housekeeping positions; clerical positions account for 30%, and the balance is a mix that includes construction, accounting and sales positions, according to job developer Willie Kiilu.
Hourly pay ranges from $4.25 to $15, with an average of $6.13, about 30% above the minimum wage. The fact that about 75% of participants were still in their jobs at the 90-day check last year underscores the program's effectiveness, Kiilu said.
Weekly workshops are conducted in English and Spanish. Peterson said classes emphasize face-to-face interviewing, personal presentation and eye contact--small, nonverbal details that could make the difference in getting a job.
But what really counts, said program participant Elizabeth Quiroa, is the quality of work and the change in personal outlook.
"JobStarts taught me how to get myself going," said Quiroa, 21, a receptionist at the Center Against Abusive Behavior in the Crenshaw area.
"The work is really interesting here, and the people are great. Now I also go to school full time at Santa Monica College. I'm real busy, but I love it."