01/29/2013 05:47 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2013

Overcoming Obstacles, Winning Over Employers

Many East Bay communities -- in Oakland, Richmond, Antioch, Hayward, and Berkeley -- have unemployment rates 25 percent higher than the national average. They are communities plagued by persistent crime, blight, and limited opportunities.

Meanwhile, the labor market is saturated with jobseekers, and businesses are inundated with applicants. For unemployed people who face significant barriers to employment (criminal record, homelessness, or history of substance abuse) job prospects are even scarcer.

Many living in these hard hit communities want to make a positive change for themselves and their families. But they don't have access to the tools and resources they need to turn their lives around.

At Rubicon, low-income men and women have the opportunity to learn appropriate work behaviors in a supportive environment, get help securing employment and housing, and achieve financial independence. They have the chance to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty. More than 1,400 children are positively impacted by our work with their parents.

Our clients overcome significant obstacles to get and keep a job. Criminal record. Unstable housing. Limited work experience. No driver's license. No transportation to get to job interviews. Lack of interview clothes. There are emotional barriers, too. Many have experienced the depression and loss of identity that comes with being unemployed. They have told us, "No one will ever want to hire someone like me with a record."

Despite these challenges, and a tough economy, Rubicon placed nearly 500 unemployed people in jobs last year. One client, Lance, worked hard to move his life in the right direction. He overcame alcohol and substance abuse and the discouragement of long-term unemployment.

Lance did time in state prison. When he was released he was determined to get clean -- he enrolled in a treatment program. Afterwards he came to Rubicon for help finding employment. He went through our transitional work program to put some work experience on his resume and gain new skills. He woke at 5 a.m. every morning of his training program to be on time at 6 a.m. He walked to his temporary job every day, no matter the weather. Supervisors at this temporary job were impressed by his work ethic.

Despite his excellent attitude, employers were unwilling to hire Lance because of his background. He did not give up. Rubicon provided Lance with all the tools he needed: an updated resume, one-on-one career coaching, lots of interview practice, bus passes, connections to local employers, and interview clothes. Lance continued to send out applications and go on interviews.

After months of searching and hard work, Lance got a break. A local business owner, Tina, called and said, "I'm looking for a dishwasher for my restaurant. I know Rubicon's got a great reputation and I need someone that can start right away." After the interview, Tina hired Lance on the spot. She still sends us emails thanking us for sending him her way.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has begun to reduce the number of people incarcerated in state prison by realigning the prison burden to county facilities. Inmates sentenced for non-violent, non-serious offenses are released under the supervision of county probation and are no longer supervised by state parole. This is a huge shift in responsibility from state to county and Rubicon's client numbers reflect the shift: 33 percent of those who sought help from us last year had a criminal record.

At Rubicon we use the coaching model. Coaching means we believe our clients have everything they need to be successful within them. They are ready to work hard to change their lives. We utilize techniques based on cognitive behavioral therapy that have been proven to work in helping people identify and change their habits. We help our clients harness their motivation, practice their skills, and recognize their strengths. Some of our clients face a long road to financial independence -- Lance started his journey with Rubicon in 2009.

Many of us are lucky to have the support of family and friends when we make mistakes or disaster strikes. They encourage us, help us take the next step, remind us of our goals. For people like Lance, Rubicon is that support.