Since the Great Depression and through the Great Recession, one California nonprofit has been working non-stop to help Americans thrive in the workplace.
Jewish Vocational Service Los Angeles provides Southern Californians with a full host of employment services, from education and training to counseling and psychological assistance. A non-sectarian organization, JVS focuses on at-risk youth, the physically disabled, veterans and anyone else struggling to establish independence and self-sufficiency.
"The people that come to us with deep wounds typically need intensive work to increase their level of self-esteem, motivation and to deal with psychological issues, whatever they might be," Claudia Finkel, the COO of JVS, told The Huffington Post. JVS mentors are trained to integrate intensive case management with focused training programs to not only assist with job acquisition, but also with job performance and retention.
The mission, purpose and practices of JVS were a long time in the making -- and history has been a good teacher. Finkel explained the organization conducted an "archaeological dig" to create its own historical timeline and even uncovered notebooks of JVS board minutes going back to 1931, when the nonprofit was founded.
JVS got its start in the midst of the Great Depression, when several Jewish business owners came together to address workplace discrimination and respond to the wave of immigrants coming into the country. Initially formed to fight rampant anti-Semitism in the business community, the organization soon saw additional needs and expanded its scope to other populations.
Today, JVS Los Angeles continues to help those facing barriers to employment and addresses modern-day issues with the same sense of purpose it held more than 80 years ago.
"We have really grown our area of specialized job training," Finkel said. "We target specific industries that are agreed to be growing and where we see significant wage increases, like health care, financial services and the security industry."
Through programs like HealthWorks and BankWork$, JVS provides industry-specific job training, job placement assistance and ongoing career help to hundreds of people each year. In 2012, JVS enrolled 139 people in the BankWork$ program, which prepares participants for positions as bank tellers. Of those 139, 105 graduated and 80 were placed in jobs at banks. The HealthWorks program placed 26 graduates last year in the health care industry as Certified Nurse Assistants, and the program's goal for 2013 is to place 50 graduates.
JVS also promotes the idea that education is a key first step to a successful career. Its Scholarship Program provides need-based financial aid to students at local colleges and vocational schools, with over $457,000 in scholarships awarded for the 2012-2013 academic year. In its 40-year history, the program has awarded 3,718 scholarships totaling more than $5.5 million.
To help support its endeavors, JVS maintains a comprehensive network of partners throughout the community, from private donors and foundations to other agencies and services aligned with the JVS mission. This strong community of backers, built over the years, is a key element of the organization's success
"Once you have a clear sense of your core mission, you look for organizations that can augment and expand your service offerings," said Katherine Moore, the vice president of communications for JVS. "They can fill a gap for you and you can fill a gap for them."
From protecting Jewish and African-American workers in the 1930s to assisting veterans and at-risk youth today, JVS has remained dedicated to helping those in need. "No matter what time in history, or what is evolving in the workplace," Finkel said. "We try to stay ahead of the curve in creating a sheltered place for people to come."
This article was written by The Huffington Post in conjunction with The JobRaising Challenge, a fundraising competition -- co-sponsored by The Huffington Post and the Skoll Foundation -- among employment-focused nonprofits. Seventy-four finalist organizations competed for prizes of $150,000, $50,000 and $30,000, as well as for other incentives. Altogether, the competition raised more than $1.5 million dollars for these nonprofits. For more information on the competition and prizes, click here.