Texas Chapter Tackles Homelessness with Interview Training

By Kathy Gurchiek Apr 10, 2012

A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapter’s work to provide job training for homeless residents helped 35 participants find jobs during the program’s first year and won the chapter a coveted SHRM 2011 Pinnacle Award.

The San Antonio Human Resource Management Association (SAHRMA) was among seven professional chapters and two state councils receiving the award Nov. 18, 2011, during SHRM’s Leadership Conference in Arlington, Va.

Nearly 70 applicants vied for the annual award, which ADP Inc. sponsors. Winners receive $1,000, and chapter presidents and state council directors receive a diamond Pinnacle pin; board members of each of the winning groups receive replicas of the pin.

The San Antonio chapter partnered with SAMMinistries, an interfaith group that serves the homeless through a transitional living and learning center and operates dormitories for individuals and families living at the Haven for Hope Campus in San Antonio. Haven for Hope is a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of homeless men, women and children by addressing education, job training and behavioral health services.

The idea for the initiative came from the chapter’s professional development director, Leanne E. King, SPHR, who saw it as a leadership opportunity for chapter members. King, a board member of SAMMinistries, reached out to Annie Reeves, formerly homeless and now an attorney, to be a speakerat a chapter general membership meeting in October 2010.

Reeves, who works at SAMMinistries as its development officer, told the chapter about the diversity of homelessness and “provided a very compelling call to action,” SAHRMA noted in its Pinnacle application.

Getting Started

The chapter saw the initiative as a long-term commitment, so the board toured the Haven for Hope campus before taking on the project. The idea was to give everyone a clear vision of who they would be serving, King said.

“That’s pretty eye-opening for an entire board. We can’t do this without everybody being 100 percent committed [to it].” All 2010 and 2011, board members participated at some level.

King recalled one woman she met who was a licensed practicing attorney who suffered from brain injuriesincurred during a mugging “and was not really the same person when she got out of rehab.”

Unable to pay her medical bills, the woman became homeless and was living at Haven for Hope when she started attending the chapter’s interview program.

The program is structured in two parts—two-hour presentations on interviewing basics and mock interviews, with the classes and interviews offered during alternating months.

In December 2010, eight volunteers from the chapter met, over two days, with 34 people during mock interviews. From those sessions, “it became very evident that we needed to expand the program,” the chapter wrote in its Pinnacle application.

The chapter started offering a monthly two-hour session in interviewing basics to people living on the Haven for Hope campus.

In addition, the chapter worked with the San Antonio Housing Authority, one of the groups partnering with Haven for Hope. It established relationships with the San Antonio business community. And King’s consulting firm played a large part in creating the interviewing basics curriculum. Two chapter members devoted about five months to organizing the project; King estimates that she spent about 15 hours per month initially.

In its first year, the chapter used 16 volunteers per month, with each working one four-hour shift. In 2012, the interview classes and the mock interviews are being offered on alternating months. Only four volunteers are needed per month for the mock interviews, and two volunteers are needed to teach interview classes.

The chapter circulates the volunteer schedule at the beginning of the year. Volunteers must submit to a background check and sign a letter of commitment.

“People are depending on them to show up and do this training. It’s kind of a big deal,” King explained. “We’ve had some no-shows” and when that happens, “you’re not welcome to come back.”

Five business days before the mock interview, the chapter e-mails volunteers a packet. The packet contains a reminder of the individual’s commitment, electronically introduces all volunteers for that given day, and provides a six-page guide on interviewing, guidance and expectations of the process, directions to the campus and points of contact on the campus.

A Different Clientele

More than 30 people from Haven for Hope meet with chapter volunteers every month; during 2011 volunteers helped 90 men and 32 women. Thirty-five people from that group landed a job. Some program participants have been referred to openings at SAMMinistries.

“They want to contribute to society. They make great employees,” King said of the program participants.

Job training includes instructor-led sessions that focus on interviewing skills. Mock interviews are followed up with constructive feedback.

This demographic is different from typical job interview students, according to King.

“It’s not like interviewing a professional candidate who comes to work,” she said. Preparing volunteers requires “a lot of front-end training” because of the “huge element of coaching that goes into these mock interviews.”

One of the offshoots of the program was awareness among chapter members about this problem in their community.

“We now highlight a nonprofit every single month” at chapter meetings, she said. Representatives of various groups set up a table and talk to the membership about outreach efforts such as the local food bank and therapeutic horseback riding for people with disabilities.

“It kind of opened the whole horizon. There are so many ways HR can help in raising the community spirit.”

Chapters interested in learning more about the program may contact King at workforce@sahrma.org.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.


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