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"Two little wires" raise employability and self-esteem.

When you're homeless and looking for a job, sometimes your biggest obstacle isn't a lack of skills or experience. It's the fact that you don't have a telephone where prospective employers can reach you.

Volunteers of America (VOA) and ICS/Executone in Rochester, N.Y., have worked together to overcome that obstacle for residents at the Rochester VOA Homeless Shelter. ICS Executone provides VOA with voice mailboxes on an Octel voice information processing system so job seekers can be easily reached by telephone and present a professional image to prospective employers.

Through this voice processing system, VOA residents can more easily find jobs, access health care resources and gain independent living skills.

Begun in September 1992, the VOA Employment, Education and Health Hotline was instituted to help homeless job seekers.

"We have residents who have diplomas or who at one time were professionals," says Susan E. Kachurak, director of development for VOA in Rochester. "When you're 40 years old and all of a sudden living in a community environment, your self-esteem takes a beating. Furthermore, your credibility is compromised when you must give prospective employers a pay telephone number and can never be sure who will answer their call. It's a tremendously difficult situation."

The Employment, Education and Health Hotline has three important goals:

Help shelter residents present a professional image to potential employers;

Evaluate the self-esteem of job seekers by providing access to basic technology (the telephone) and privacy, so that they have more control over job-seeking efforts and outcomes.

Demonstrate that corporations are aware of obstacles people face and use technology to help them again become productive citizens.

Now shelter residents in search of work can give employers a number where they can be reached, and know that messages are retrievable, 24 hours a day. "The voice mailboxes for job seekers have already been a success," says Kachurak. Residents understand and use the system every day--it has made a difference in job searches already.

Voice processing not only helps shelter residents with their job searches, but also provides access to other services at the Rochester VOA.

The VOA shelter works closely with local health care providers to provide emergency medical care, ongoing treatment programs and services such as HIV testing. Voice messaging has dramatically improved communication between health care providers and shelter staff so that people who need help can be quickly matched with professionals who best meet their needs.

"You have a much higher chance of being homeless if you can't read or write," says Kachurak. "Our literacy program determines the reading level of a resident, provides English as a Second Language (ESL) tutoring, and translation services. With voice mail, we are able to easily link tutoring volunteers to those people who need tutoring.

"Voice mail helps us with scheduling tutors and assessing the literacy levels of residents who call for information. It also gives them a way to learn about the network of services we can offer them and find out how to access the services they need."

Often people come to live at the shelter while they recover from chemical dependencies or break away from problematic living situations. Rather than sending them back to the same environment to face the same problems all over again, the shelter's Supportive Living Program teaches skills to help residents remain independent once they leave. Basic skills such as budgeting, food shopping, nutritional counseling and money management are taught. Voice mail gives residents a way to request information about this program and related counseling programs.

"Because of the overloaded prison system, some of our residents are parole violators," explains Kachurak. "VOA has parole officers on staff and we use the voice mail system for facilitating communication between officers and program participants. When parolees are out job hunting, potential employers can call and leave a private message for the prospective job candidate.

"Our Employment, Education and Health Hotline is an excellent example of an initiative using high technology in human services fields," Kachurak says. "The uses are endless. It's incredible what two little wires can do to raise a person's self-esteem."
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Service Industries; the Rochester Volunteers of America Homeless Shelter
Publication:Communications News
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:680
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