At the library, Job Help boosts careers and confidence

This article by Ellen Hammes and Carmella Harmon was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on Dec. 6, 2017.

The Arizona Daily Star Monthly Library Series offers an insider's view of Pima County Public Library and the ways in which we're transforming lives in our community. This month, we hear from Ellen Hammes and Carmella Harmon, Library Program Instructors at the Murphy-Wilmot Library.

We take great pride in serving library customers through the Job Help program. We’ve seen it truly touch lives and that brings us such happiness. Those of us who teach Job Help have more stories to share than there’s room for here, but a few wonderful moments stand out in our minds.

There was the woman who received a phone call during a Job Help session, hung up the phone, and said, “I got the job!” Every person in the room clapped, even those who didn’t know her.

We’ve watched many people come full circle, including a man who regularly attended and is now working at another organization helping people get jobs.

Another person increased his computer skills and soon began volunteering at his son’s school. Shortly after, the school created a job for him. He served as the school’s liaison for a new computer program being installed.

These are just a few of the stories we’ve gathered over the years. There are so many more. We see much joy, some frustration, and even tears (both happy and sad) in Job Help. We’ve made friends and watched them make positive changes. It’s a privilege to be a part of their lives.

It is beyond special when former customers return to tell us they’ve gotten a job. Or when people stop in for help updating their résumés and applying for new positions. Sometimes they swing by to simply tell us how happy they are or that they’ve received a promotion.

In addition to job and computer help, our customers are in need of essential community resources. To meet that need, we created an extensive toolkit in the form of a notebook that’s displayed on a table.

We have handouts on job fairs, workshops, classes, information for veterans and interview tips. We also have contributions from former Job Help customers who’ve acquired jobs and share helpful information and tips gleaned from their own search process. We encourage customers to take copies of anything that will empower them to be successful.

Plus, there’s the library itself and all the incredible resources online in the E-Library: Brainfuse Online Tutoring, DigitalLearn, Career Transitions, and LearningExpress Library, to name only a small selection.

Every Job Help customer has the advantage of using our laptops and receiving one-on-one assistance within a group setting. They love the WinWay Résumé Writing Software that guides a person in creating a résumé and cover letter that’s ready to print or email to potential employers. It’s also a great tool for job searching and has plenty of other helpful features, including job application assistance, an interview simulation and a salary maximizer. Did we mention it’s completely free?

Filling out an online application can be difficult and time consuming. For some people, submitting an online application might also mean using a computer for the first time. Needless to say, they’re not always terribly excited about it. But with the library here for them, they have nothing to fear. We’ve got tutorials to share and classes for every skill level.

A gentleman came into the library with his fiancée, who needed help with her résumé. When we asked him if he also needed assistance, he said he had a good skilled trade job, but it didn’t matter anyway since he didn’t have a degree and therefore couldn’t have a résumé. It was wonderful to witness his delight hearing that he most certainly could.

While the program has evolved over the years to meet the needs of the community, not much has changed fundamentally. The goal remains the same: to help people become independent job seekers by teaching them skills that they can use any time and any place. We want to help people feel good about themselves and be successful at applying for jobs.

There is no single Job Help customer. There are first-timers and those who come again and again. They are of varied ages and even more varied skill levels. They are seeking part-time and full-time jobs, exploring vocational options, or transitioning to new careers. Whatever their motivation, whatever their past, the overall goal remains the same: to secure gainful employment. We relish the opportunity to work with them and be part of their journey.

The program also inspires incredible camaraderie. People help each other. They share job leads, information about companies and even assist one another determining which bus route to take to interviews.

We’ve seen it happen over the years and each time, the same result. People feel comforted when they can see that they aren’t the only person looking for a job. They hold each other up and encourage one another along the way. Some of them have even met for lunch once a month and celebrated life events together.

One young man in particular comes to mind. He was quite down on himself when other Job Help customers began praising him. It worked. As his confidence grew, so too did his determination.

Year after year, we are inspired by our customers’ perseverance in the face of challenges and moved by their hard-won successes. It’s an honor to know and help them.

Ellen Hammes’ passion is teaching and her job at Murphy-Wilmot Library is the best she’s ever had. She loves that she gets to teach people, but doesn’t have to grade papers or send anyone to the principal’s office. She spent the first part of her career in business and has taught business education in Minnesota, Arizona, Washington, and in the bush in Southwest Alaska, where the only way in and out was by airplane.

Among the things Carmella Harmon most values, education tops the list. Providing educational opportunities and helping people become self-reliant have been her career priorities. She’s taught vocational education and was a professional career and school counselor before becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor. She is also a consulting business owner and says her work at Murphy-Wilmot Library is incredibly rewarding.