University City

Nonprofit looking for help by the hundreds

A recent Thursday brought reason to celebrate at Jacob's Ladder, a nonprofit organization in Charlotte that helps people get ready for employment.

On that day, six people who had completed the organization's intensive four-week program got jobs ranging from food service to retail.

"It was a banner day here," said the Rev. Elizabeth Hyland, an ordained Presbyterian minister and special projects manager for Jacob's Ladder. The organization specializes in helping people who are unemployed or underemployed get back to work.

Jacob's Ladder, which was founded in 1998, has long worked with Charlotte's faith community. Houses of faith provide many of the organization's more than 200 volunteers; they also pray for the organization, make donations and hold clothing drives to provide professional attire to Jacob's Ladder clients.

Now, Jacob's Ladder is hoping to reach further into the faith community with its Community Labor Day 100 by 100 campaign. The organization is asking 100 houses of worship each contribute $100 to Jacob's Ladder by Labor Day, a holiday that can be hard for the unemployed to celebrate.

"Unemployment reaches everybody," Hyland said. "We want to let the faith community know there's a great resource here they can connect people with." People who are down on their luck often seek help at houses of worship, who could then refer them to Jacob's Ladder.

The organization is funded by everything from grants to donations, and $100 can buy a weekly bus pass for eight clients. Many don't have their own vehicles, and bus passes are vital for clients to attend job interviews or go to their jobs, Hyland said.

In 2010, 681 people attended the program's orientations, and 438 graduated from the program. More than 300 got jobs.

One of those celebrating a new job earlier this month was James Bowser, who started a new job in food service at UNC Charlotte this week.

Bowser said Jacob's Ladder is a good place to sharpen skills and get training, and as importantly it "lets you know you're not by yourself.

"There are a lot of people who are rooting for you," said Bowser, who had been out of work for almost two years. "Everybody (at Jacob's Ladder) showed me love, and I knew I couldn't give up on myself."

He said recent medical issues, including breaking his hand twice, kept him from accepting some jobs, and during that time he enjoyed helping his friends find employment.

"I took what I learned from here and gave it a shot, and I never gave up," he said.

Hyland said many clients undergo an "amazing transformation" during the Jacob's Ladder program.

"A lot of people will arrive here down on their luck, feeling hopeless and desperate," she said. "They come here as a last resort. By the end of four weeks, they are standing taller, their dignity is restored and they have a new sense of confidence."