Some welfare recipients are getting training and jobs with help from healthcare providers, outsourcing firms and community shelters.
Take James Smith, who went from being a homeless addict to being a housekeeping supervisor at Chicago's Mercy Hospital and Medical Center. His struggle took a right turn when he completed a vocational training program offered by the Chicago Christian Industrial League and Downers Grove, Ill.-based ServiceMaster, one of the nation's largest healthcare contract management companies.
In 1993 Smith was homeless and struggling to stay off drugs. As a last resort, he turned to the league, a homeless shelter whose mission is to restore "desperate men and women to self-reliant and productive lives."
While Smith was working to regain his health and study for a high school equivalency diploma, the league launched a partnership with ServiceMaster to train interested league residents in landscaping and grounds maintenance.
The eight-month-long landscape training program started small, with fewer than 10 people, but has expanded to include 100 trainees.
In 1995, ServiceMaster added a housekeeping program. A year later the league and Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp., a food service outsourcer, collaborated on a food service training course.
The league partnership is one of many training programs in which ServiceMaster and Aramark have participated. In addition to providing a community service, ServiceMaster and Aramark clients sometimes hire those who successfully complete the program. Aramark clients, who are not necessarily healthcare providers, hire more than one-third of the company's food service trainees. ServiceMaster clients hire about 80% of the company's housekeeping trainees.
Smith completed a 12-week housekeeping program that covered Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines, materials and chemical handling, equipment operation and floor-care procedures. He also received on-the-job training at various locations, including 255-bed West Suburban Hospital Medical Center, Oak Park, Ill. Impressed by Smith's skills, West Suburban hired him for a permanent position in 1995.
"It's one thing to talk about (job skills) in a classroom environment; it was another thing to give on-the-job training," says Noel Jackson, the league's chief financial officer.
The league teamed with ServiceMaster because its mission was similar to ServiceMaster's corporate goals, Jackson says. ServiceMaster strives to "honor God in all we do, help people develop, pursue excellence and grow profitably," says Bill Bedrossian, chief operating officer for ServiceMaster's work training programs.
Smith also was intrigued by ServiceMaster's philosophy. After working at West Suburban for about 18 months, he visited ServiceMaster headquarters and met the organization's executive vice president and chairman, and members of the board. Soon after, Smith accepted a position as ServiceMaster's second-shift supervisor at Chicago-based Mercy Hospital and Medical Center.
There, he took charge of a 30-member crew responsible for housekeeping in the entire 444-bed hospital.
Using the model learned from the league program, ServiceMaster began similar projects in other cities, such as Indianapolis and South Bend, Ind.
"Healthcare communities are interested in healthy communities," Bedrossian says. "Here was a common mission. The trick was to tie in and to find a not-for-profit that was a community leader in an area where we had a hospital we served."
In Indianapolis, ServiceMaster partnered with the city, Clarian Health Partners and Wheeler Mission Ministries. In South Bend, the company joined 352-bed Memorial Hospital and the city's Center for the Homeless to set up a landscaping business.
"We served as a facilitator between the local community and ServiceMaster because we were partners with both groups in many ways," says Mark Chambers, vice president at South Bend-based Memorial Health System. "We knew the Center for the Homeless was looking for opportunities for training and jobs for their clients. Given that ServiceMaster's expertise was in the area of service, it was an interesting opportunity to get those organizations together. Now we serve as one of their clients."
Aramark also has developed national welfare-to-work programs. In addition to working with the league, the company partners with the Salvation Army in several cities to provide food service training. After the 10-week training program, about 65% of trainees find jobs, and about 33% work for Aramark clients, says James Neumann, food service director at Aramark.
As for Smith, he has returned to the league as an assistant vocational trainer in June 1998, not as a resident. Now he imparts his housekeeping knowledge and experience to current trainees.
"I wanted others to have the same opportunity that I had," Smith says. "I did not go through the program alone. Between trainers at the league and the countless trainers at ServiceMaster, there were always people there to encourage me.
"I wanted to give something back," he adds. "To keep your sobriety, you have to help someone else along the way. Helping others encourages you, strengthens you and reminds you of what you've done in your past."