According to the California Employment Development Department, the state's current unemployment rate is around 12%. One organization, Chrysalis, is fighting to decrease that percentage around the city of Los Angeles. Recent college graduate John Dillon initially founded Chrysalis in 1984 as a food and clothing distribution center on LA's Skid Row. As Chrysalis grew, Dillon soon realized that long-term solutions were needed to eradicate homelessness and poverty in the area, and the agency turned its mission to helping low-income Angelenos find and retain jobs.
We caught up with Chrysalis' current President and CEO, Mark Loranger, to find out a little bit more about the organization.
Huffington Post: It seems like Chrysalis has combined an entrepreneurial spirit with philanthropy in order to help Angelenos find employment. How does the organization combine these two characteristics to achieve success both as a business and as an organization that assists others in the community?
Mark Loranger: Our dual mission of being a social service provider while at the same time operating two businesses (referred to as Social Enterprises in the non-profit world) presents both challenges and opportunities for Chrysalis. The needs of our clients always come first, but sometimes this conflicts with traditional business decision making. For example, our businesses provide transitional job opportunities for those clients that have the most significant barriers to employment. Then, after they are skilled and productive members of our team, we want our clients to transition to outside employment. Most employers would want their best employees to stick around, but we need them to transition out of the organization in order to make room for new clients that could benefit from this experience.
HP: How does Chrysalis select clients? What is the process by which these clients--who initially have been deemed to "have the most difficulty finding a job"--to undergo training and job placement in permanent jobs?
ML: Participation in the Chrysalis program is strictly voluntary. Clients are referred to us by the many partner agencies that we work with--shelters, missions, housing programs, and government agencies. In addition, many clients come to us via referrals from other clients. Chrysalis is fortunate to have a good reputation in the community, and when a friend finds success through our program, they are likely to share that good news with other friends or relatives that might be in similar circumstances.
Comprehensive services include: (1) Assessment and one-on-one case management; (2) Job-search and interview preparation; (3) Job-retention training and support groups; (4) Job-search resources, including access to computers (Internet and e-mail), faxes, telephones and voicemail, newspapers, interview and work clothes, mailing address, and bus tokens; (5) Transitional employment through our in-house Chrysalis Enterprises businesses; and (6) Housing and social service referrals.
HP: What are some of the challenges Chrysalis has faced during the recession and during a period where the unemployment rate in CA has reached 12%?
ML: Since the economic downturn began, we have experienced a 60% increase in the number of clients that we serve. We routinely provide services to 450 clients each day at our three centers in Downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Pacoima. Not surprisingly, this has put a significant strain on our staff and resources. We are fortunate to have a large number of volunteers that work with us on a daily basis to supplement our staff.
HP: What is your organization's mission and long-term goals? In what ways has Chrysalis been successful in accomplishing its long-term goals?
ML: The clients that turn to Chrysalis have significant barriers to employment--little to no work experience, low educational achievement, experience with the criminal justice system--all things that make it extraordinarily difficult to find work. Given the current levels of unemployment in our country, individuals with these types of employment barriers have been particularly hard-hit. Our goal is to help every client that comes to us get back on that pathway to self-sufficiency. Over our 27 years, we have helped over 37,000 clients do just that. In 2010 alone, in one of the worst employment environments most of us have ever seen, over 1500 of our clients found success.
HP: Are there any memorable success stories you'd like to share that highlight the work Chrysalis has done in the community?
ML: Margie is a 49 year old African American woman. Having endured a painful childhood, she embarked on a path of drugs and criminal activity. She served a five year prison sentence for drug possession and was released in December of 2009. By this time, she was celebrating six years of sobriety. Upon her release, Margie headed to downtown Los Angeles where she was accepted by the Weingart Center’s EPIC program, which later referred her to Chrysalis. She enrolled in the Chrysalis Employment Program where she completed all of her job preparation classes. The very first time she used a computer was in the Chrysalis computer lab. She formed a great working relationship with her Employment Specialist, who referred her to Chrysalis Enterprises, which provides transitional jobs to clients with significant gaps in their work history.
Margie began working for Chrysalis Enterprises as a street maintenance worker and was promoted to a pressure washing position. In fact, she was the first female pressure washer in Chrysalis’ history. In addition to working, she enrolled at Los Angeles Community College’s Substance Abuse Counselor Program, and was an intern at Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse, where she practiced case management skills. Her goal is to work with youth and help them make healthy choices.
Margie reconnected with her siblings and daughter, who are proud of how far she has come. She recently moved back to Missouri so that she could be closer to them. She is forever grateful for all of the help Chrysalis has provided, particularly the weekly women’s support group. Margie has truly come a long way. She is looking towards the future and taking steps to make sure it is a bright one.