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To Begin Life Anew, Find Your Compass

September 02, 1993|AURORA MACKEY | Aurora Mackey is a Times staff writer

Maybe it was just a summer malaise, that vague sense of discontent that adults so often get when they sit too long at their desks and remember that children, away from school, are playing happily outside.

At least, I hoped that's all it was when I heard the heaviness in my friend's voice at the other end of the phone.

But as we sat down for lunch a few days later, I began to understand that her malaise was from a different cause. My friend, also a writer, scanned the menu quickly and then ordered the special for the day--not one of her favorite dishes, I knew, but the cheapest.

She was, she said, out of a job. The company for which she had been doing part-time work on a free-lance basis had decided to do the work in-house--a polite way of being fired.

So what was she going to do now? I asked, as I took another mouthful of the crab salad I splurged on. My friend had a morose look on her face, somewhere between half-beaten and resigned.

"No one's hiring right now," she said, her expression revealing that she understood the phrase to be more like an echo nowadays than an original thought. "But what else can I do? I don't know how to do anything else."

I was about to give her a pep talk when suddenly I stopped.

What, I thought, if it happened to me? Being a writer sometimes feels like being an emotional hit-and-run driver, crashing in and out of peoples' lives. Still, it's all I know.

So what else could I do? Apply for a job with MADD?


The question of how to start over, of how to pick oneself up and perhaps enter a new career, is something plenty of people are thinking about--from President Clinton all the way down to local employers.

But last week, during an awards ceremony at the Oxnard Hilton, there was evidence that the task is not always the lonely or solitary one people believe it to be.

Sponsored by the Job Training Policy Council of Ventura County, a federally funded nonprofit organization that allocates up to $10 million to local job training programs annually, the evening ceremony recognized 15 individuals.

Unable to find a job--either because of layoffs, lack of skills or obstacles such as being a teen parent--each award winner had reached out for help and found it in a surprising place: within themselves.

"Tonight we celebrate their growth and the county employers who have given them an opportunity," said council chair Jacqueline Richardson, who handed out written commendations from U. S. Rep. Elton Gallegly in the presence of Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez and City Councilman Bedford Pinkard.

To an outsider, the ceremony might have been perplexing. Why give an award to an 11th-grade dropout for getting a job as a receptionist? Or a 42-year-old former aerospace worker who now works in an Oxnard produce market? Or an ex-gang member because he's learning computer skills?

"The people who were selected for the award were chosen by employers throughout the county who provide on-the-job training," said council spokesman Aram Saroyan.

For providing that training, Saroyan said, the council pays employers up to half an employee's salary for up to a year, which, if the person works out in the position, makes it a win-win situation.

"Each one was outstanding in some way, whether it was the obstacles overcome or an attitude toward the job," he said.


Perhaps the best explanation of what each award winner had accomplished came from a latecomer to the ceremony.

Reginald Morris, a South-Central Los Angeles resident who is in the midst of a 641-mile walk from the inner city to Sacramento to spotlight the need for job training, was scheduled to arrive by airplane from Oakland (and return the same night) to be the keynote speaker.

Unfortunately, Morris had a little mishap en route, which he shared with the audience.

At the Burbank airport, he said, his credit card for a rental car to drive to Oxnard was refused. Seems someone got hold of his card number and charged "a thousand things" the day before.

To make matters worse, he only had $16 in his pocket--and who was going to rent a car for cash to a black man from South-Central anyway, he laughed?

Morris soon revealed what he was getting at.

Someone at the last car agency he tried trusted him. Someone believed him. They gave him an old beat-up Ford Fairlane to drive to Oxnard.

Someone finally said yes.

"It's like that with getting a job too," he said. Some days everything goes wrong and all you hear is no, no, no.

"But if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and doing what you need to do, eventually you'll get there," he said. "You just have to decide where you want to go."

That is what I meant to tell my friend, really.

Unfortunately, I just didn't think of it at the time.

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