While working to help Boaz & Ruth, a finalist in The JobRaising Challenge, I've taken a lot of time to really think about what work really means in our society. To address the jobs crisis in our country, it seems that we should think about why people work and what motivates individuals to spend their time seeking employment, investing in training and entering the workforce. In our work at Boaz & Ruth we reach a segment of the population that is willing and able to work, but often not considered because of their past history of incarceration. With training and counseling these graduates are eager and ready to enter the workforce. But what motivates them? What is it that keeps them engaged and willing to endure hours of classes, counseling and on-the-job training?
This past Thanksgiving I went around to the participants and graduates of Boaz and Ruth's Rebuilding Lives program asking them what they were thankful for. I expected them to say freedom or jobs or housing as those are all benefits of the program. I thought they'd be thankful that they are getting on-the-job training and that they will be leaving soon with a better resume and positive work history. I thought they'd be thankful for the affordable housing we provide while they go through the program. I was wrong. Not completely...of course they are thankful for those things...but I was indeed wrong.
What they were really thankful for was family.
Most having a history of incarceration, these individuals have known dark, lonely times away from family and friends. One of the classes taught at Boaz & Ruth is on reconnecting with family. It is in that classroom where participants dig deep and learn the skills and tactics to experience true healing as they rebuild and rekindle relationships with loved ones. One 2011 graduate said, "Boaz & Ruth and the classes and what I have learned has helped not just myself but they've also helped my son and daughter. My daughter called me Dad for the first time in 28 years." Recidivism is often a cycle only to be broken by building positive, supportive relationships. These relationships provide the necessary self-worth, confidence and motivation needed to successfully reenter society and the workplace.
While participants are working on themselves and striving to be the best they can be, their family provides an even deeper motivation. Connecting with loved ones is something many of us take for granted. But at the end of the day, life really is all about relationships.
Of course for some, family members are not blood relatives. They could be friends or godfathers or anything in between. But having people in your life that will do anything for you, that have your back, that know your history and love you anyway - that's what we all crave. And that's why we work.
We may say we want or need to work for the money or respect or prestige but under all of that we're longing to be loved and accepted by family. We work to provide for those we love. We work so we can have the means to travel to see people. We work so we can afford to go out to eat, go to the movies, go on vacation. To spend time with those we love.
It's easy to get caught up in the rat race - punching the clock and then getting on Facebook to complain about it. But if we put it in perspective and understand the role work plays into our relationships with others and the greater purpose work fulfills, perhaps we'll appreciate it more. Perhaps we'll have gratitude like the Boaz & Ruth participants and graduates.
Please support our mission of rebuilding lives and communities by donating to Boaz & Ruth's JobRaising Challenge. We are working to solve the jobs crisis in America by healing communities - one individual at a time.