From KRA Customer to KRA Career Agent

On October 15, 2012, Ernestine Chambers began working for the Work Participation, Placement, and Support Services Program as a KRA Career Agent. In and of itself, this is not a newsworthy accomplishment. However, how she got the job is. Chambers, who is 29, single, and the mother of three, enrolled with the KRA Orientation program as a condition of receiving Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) benefits through the Baltimore Department of Social Services (DSS), KRA’s client agency.

According to Christin Coleman, KRA Career Agent, “Ernestine had been unemployed for more than 2 years, and had come to realize just how difficult the job market is, even with a BS degree in Social Work from Delaware State, and experience as a Case Manager for a family-support center. So, at first she was confident that her unemployment insurance [UI] benefits would tide her over until she found employment. But when the weeks turned into months, and the months into years…and the UI ran out…she put aside her pride and applied for TCA to provide some modicum of support for herself and her children.”

Greg Alexander, KRA Job Coach, reported, “At the DSS, the Case Manager told Ernestine that KRA had a reputation for really helping their jobseeker-customers to succeed, and as a result, she chose our program for her required Work-Readiness Preparation. During her participation in our Orientation program, we stressed the importance of using transferrable skills and being prepared to take advantage of employment opportunities that KRA could present to her, sometimes unexpectedly.”

During one of the Orientation program breaks, Alexander noticed that Ernestine was actually coaching some of her peers on how to complete their enrollment forms and how to better prepare for job interviews. One of the KRA supervisors also observed Ernestine’s interactions with the other customers and was very impressed with her knowledge and demeanor. Aware of her educational accomplishment and previous case-management experience, the next day she encouraged Ernestine to submit an application for an open KRA Career Agent position.

In the interim, Ernestine continued to attend KRA job-readiness workshops, which included a battery of assessments, interview preparation, job-search assistance…since the KRA position was not a sure thing…and enrollment in the highly innovative KRA Pantry Points Program, allowing her to trade “points” earned for successful program participation for non-perishable foodstuffs and household items. And then it happened, on June 26, KRA offered Ernestine a 3-month provisional position as a Career Agent. Coleman observed, “Ernestine never let her personal situation impact her performance. In fact, no one would have guessed that having moved recently to the Baltimore area, and unable to afford rent, she and the children were virtually homeless.”

Using her formal education, training, and personal experiences, Ernestine proved to be a quick study, and when the monthly reports were compiled, would consistently have a significantly high number of customers employed, and an equally significant low number of case close-outs, which occur when customers fall into non-compliance. It was evident that Ernestine was succeeding with her assigned customers, that it was her skillful career coaching and support that was motivating them to meet program goals to succeed for themselves.

Recognizing Ernestine’s obvious proclivity for the job, at the end of the 90-day period, Nate’ Gordon, KRA Project Director, offered her the Career Agent position on fulltime, salaried basis with a full benefits package for her and the children. Gordon reported, “ I was so excited to find someone in our own program with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities and to be in a position to give her the opportunity to become part of the KRA team. This also demonstrates that as a company, KRA truly ‘practices what it preaches’.”

Earnestine now had the financial support she needed to rent her own apartment for her family, and is already preparing to attend the University of Baltimore in January 2013 to earn her MSW degree. She is fully committed to helping others as KRA has helped her, and concluded, “KRA is proof that if you work hard someone will see your potential and make an investment in you…the way KRA invested in me.”