What Labor Day Means to Me

09/03/2010 02:56 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Labor Day often represents the end of summer, which means the end of summer vacation, back to school and one last barbecue or block party. But what does Labor Day really mean? Technically, Labor Day dates back to 1882 and its purpose was to serve as a tribute to those men and women whose "labor" had helped to build our country.

Labor Day makes me think of the work opportunities I was given in life and the many mentors that helped me climb the career ladder. But for a variety of circumstances today, too many Americans are not employed, not given opportunities to help build our country -- and not due to a lack of effort.

As the country gets through this recessionary period, and prepares people for jobs relevant to current and emerging markets, many unemployed people are depending on welfare and other critical government services to support themselves and their families.

For instance, Barbara Delbridge applied for welfare (the federal program known more formally as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF) because she had no income, and no means for supporting her daughter and herself. Upon receiving TANF, she was introduced to a transitional employment program through Goodwill, where she spent more than a year working at a local Goodwill retail store. Now she is employed full-time and using her background to help others gain the necessary skills to advance their careers, and to work and improve their work histories.

This Labor Day, Goodwill is focusing on the need to extend the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, which will expire on September 30. TANF provides financial help to millions of families in poverty, specifically unemployed parents with dependent children. Since it was first created in 1996, Goodwill has provided more than 1.5 million TANF recipients with pre- and post-employment services, including skills training, job search assistance, job retention support, and other career programs tailored to their needs.

While most people who are unemployed truly want to find jobs and be self-sufficient, many face complex challenges that keep them from making any headway. The TANF program helps such people develop personalized career plans, aiming to help them find jobs and move up the career ladder.

Goodwill Industries of Kentucky has been administering TANF services to families in need for the last three years. Participants go through a four week job preparation course that includes resume writing, mock job interviews, workplace etiquette and time management. Goodwill Industries of the Redwood Empire in Sonoma, CA, runs a subsidized employment program, which gives participants the opportunity to train for employment opportunities in the green jobs sector. The program also provides opportunities for participants to work in the nonprofit, public and for-profit sectors.

TANF helps people of all backgrounds. If basic needs for food, shelter and clothing are not being met, people are unable to concentrate on gaining work and obtaining their goals. Furthermore, a tenuous, unsuccessful cycle is set in motion when Goodwill participants achieve gainful employment, but lose the financial assistance they still need, such as child care and food stamps, due to their increased income.

Given that TANF's services are needed now more than ever, these obstacles need to be addressed so that organizations like Goodwill can reach more participants and help them find fulfillment in the power of work. To learn more about TANF, or to show your support efforts to help people who are in need of this temporary assistance, you can contact your local Congress member.