02/24/2013 07:07 pm ET Updated Apr 26, 2013

My Life as a Counselor

The staff at Project Return often wear a number of different hats. Sometimes we're teaching job readiness class and showing our participants how to fill out job applications. Sometimes we're piecing together a client's job history to write a resume. Sometimes we're completing program paperwork or reports, or logging bus passes, or packing food boxes... But mostly, we are listeners. We recognize that every single person who comes through our door, regardless of his or her background, is worthy of respect and deserves to be listened to. And until March 1, you can support our work by contributing as little as $10 to our JobRaising Challenge. One of our Client Services Counselors explains what her days are like at Project Return:

Imagine for a second that your life is put on pause. Then, 5-10 years later, someone hits the play button again. But while your life was on pause, the world continued turning and things kept changing. Technology advanced, bus schedules switched around, buildings were torn down and new ones built. Everyone you know carried on with their lives, while yours was on pause. Do you feel lost? Where do you start to put your life together? While your life was on pause, you lost your house, your job, any form of identification you had, your children, and more. It's a different world. Where do you start?

This is how our clients feel when they are first released from prison. If you are able to imagine this scenario, you might be able to understand a portion of what they are feeling. These are the people I get to work with everyday. The people who have recently been released from prison, who are trying to pick up the pieces and are trying to find a way to put them back together. A simple smile and calling them by name may mean the world to them.

I enjoy my job because I get to help motivate people and help them put those pieces back together. Quizzing them about what they learned in our employment classes, to make sure they remember all the helpful hints we gave them. Reminding them that despite the difficulty of life right now -- struggling to get a job, maybe living in a halfway house -- it is so much better than the prison life they recently left behind.

I spend part of each day sitting down with clients individually and working with them on their quest for employment. How is the job search going? Where have you applied? Which of these job leads are a fit for your skills and goals?

There are times when my job can be disheartening: when a young client comes in and is homeless, has no work history and doesn't even know where to start. Or when a client breaks down in my office, a grown man in tears, because the return can seem more difficult than incarceration. It is my job to build him up. To have him look at all the great things he does have going for him. Then send him back out on his job search with a sense of self-worth and purpose. Although these moments can be difficult, to see a client walk back through my door next week, saying he is now employed, means the world to me.

At Project Return we remind our clients that their lives are no longer on pause. We motivate and inspire people to be the best version of themselves, to show the world that they are much more than their criminal record, much better than that.