Susan Bray saw the transition coming. She was near the end of her professional career as a sales director in the telecommunications industry, her kids were out of college and establishing their own careers, and she found herself dreaming more and more about life after retirement, maybe she would find herself enjoying life in a community retirement home similar to Agape Cottage. Her next chapter, she resolved, would include making a difference in her community. She had enjoyed co-chairing the T.C. Williams High School Titan Expo, an event that raised scholarship funds, and leading fundraisers for their homeless students. Maybe she would like volunteering with low-income and homeless families?
When her friend and Community Lodgings board member Barry Roman invited her to an Open Doors event to learn more about the nonprofit, Susan found her answer.
“I could help here,” she thought. She was drawn to the transitional housing program and volunteered as a job counselor.
It was, and still is, a perfect fit. Using her professional experience, Susan shows the transitional housing clients, most of whom are single mothers with small children, how to write a resume that will land them that important interview. She instructs them on the fundamentals of interview skills – how to shake hands, look the interviewer in eye, write cover letters and thank you notes, ask questions, and generally present themselves professionally.
“If you get an interview let me know,” she tells them. “I will show you how to interview but I’m not going to get you the job.”
Susan also advises her transitional housing clients to share with a potential employer any time they spent in incarceration. “Talk about it in terms of how you overcame obstacles,” she tells them. “[Prison time] will come out in a background check anyway.” Essentially you’ll probably be better off being honest with your potential employer instead of any negatives being outlined by a company that could conduct a background check in Illinois or other states.
“I feel like I am helping,” Susan reflected on her volunteer time. She feels strongly about helping people help themselves, and appreciates that while Community Lodgings offers support and training, ultimately each client is responsible for completing the challenging two-year program.
Susan is also drawn to the kids in Community Lodgings’ after school program, especially after seeing the confidence and empowerment they feel when they complete their homework. Her very favorite event is the “holiday store,” where she gets to help the kids use the “behavior bucks” they earn for good behavior during the after school program to “buy” Christmas presents, all donated, for their families.
“We all have to be nicer to each other and pay it forward,” she added. “Just be kinder.”
Volunteering, Susan said, “puts things in perspective for me about what’s really important. It’s not like work, she continued. “People say ‘thank you’ and I appreciate it. I feel like I am accomplishing something good. I feel better about myself that I’m helping my city, my town, my neighborhood, my kids.”