New Niles program seeks to help people with employment barriers find jobs

BY KELSEY HAMMON

kelsey.hammon@leaderpub.com

NILES — Finding a good job can be difficult enough as is. For those who have served time in prison or jail or struggled with substance abuse, the search can be even more challenging, as job seekers fight stigmas that may deter employers from hiring them.

Beginning this week, a new program, called Gateway to Greatness, is seeking to help people with barriers to employment get expert advice and guidance at finding a job.

The free six-week long faith-based program is part of the nonprofit Gateway Services. Those who participate will get tips on resume writing, job interviews and problem solving, and learn self-esteem skills. The first class begins Thursday. Students will meet for five hours every Tuesday and Thursday.

Ric Pawloski will lead the effort as the program director. As a former Niles business owner, Pawloski said he has seen the economic struggle that residents face, which is why he felt the program would serve the area.

“It is all geared toward restoring self-esteem, a sense of self-worth,” Pawloski said. “Many, many times people have made a mistake, they have paid for the mistake. They don’t want to be who they are on paper, but our stigma of a felony can oftentimes prevent that.”

Pawloski is the former executive director of the Mosaic Christian Community Development Association program in Benton Harbor. The program has a similar focus to help people in the community, who face additional challenges to find jobs.

Through his work with the Benton Harbor program, Pawloski said he has seen it successfully help people obtain employment and continue to thrive. He said during his three years of involvement, he saw about 100 people complete the program and obtain work.

Part of that success is completing entry interviews, which help Pawloski to understand the different challenges and goals of each of his students.

“We get to know them over that six weeks and we develop relationships where we get to know them, their families, their challenges and then we can specifically find a place where they can be successful,” Pawloski said.

The program will also seek to continue to provide guidance to students, even after they graduate. Job coaches are accessible to help them through any challenges they may face at work.

While Pawloski will work with officials from the court system to get referrals for the program, he welcomed anyone who feels they could benefit from the program to join.

Those interested in taking part in the program must fill out an application, which can be obtained by contacting Pawloski via email at rpawloski@gatewayvro.com. Applications will be accepted through Tuesday, Nov. 13, at the Niles District Library.

“My goal is that the program here gains the same notoriety and understanding as what the program in Benton Harbor got,” Pawloski said. “Knowing that they are in the program means something to the system. The goal of the courts is always to reduce recidivism and that’s our goal, too.”

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