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St. Vincent Health "Special Talents to Achieve and Rise (Star)" Program Receives 2011 Achievement Citation Award

St. Vincent Program Helps Job Seekers In Indiana Find Work, Rebuild Their Lives

ATLANTA (June 6, 2011) — Special Talents to Achieve and Rise, or STAR, a workforce development program initiated by St. Vincent Health, Indianapolis, received the 2011 Achievement Citation Award at the Catholic Health Assembly in Atlanta, June 5-7.

The Achievement Citation has been presented annually since 1975 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA). The honor annually goes to bold and innovative initiatives that embody the Catholic health mission.

For people who are unemployed over a long term, finding a job is rarely their sole concern. Many also face painful emotions, difficult spiritual questions, unrelenting financial challenges.

That's why an employment help program from Indianapolis' St. Vincent Health not only provides job seekers with practical training on finding a job, it also helps them to delve into deep-seated issues that may be contributing to or compounding their worries.

"There are so many individuals that have barriers to employment they've never had the structure of a steady job, they don't know how to keep a job, they have no idea of their capabilities because no one ever pumped them up," said Linda Nunley. "Our program helps them realize they're capable and qualified that they have the skills to get and keep a job."

Nunley is the founder and force behind St. Vincent's STAR program, an intensive job-readiness training course that includes six weeks of classroom work and six weeks of job shadowing with a mentor at St. Vincent or at another Indianapolis-area employer.

Nunley helped to develop STAR shortly after she joined St. Vincent's community development department a decade ago. The department was brainstorming how best to assist Indianapolis community members in a weakening economy. While Indianapolis has not suffered as drastically in the recession as other large cities, the nation's 13th largest city did take a hit and did see its jobless numbers rise over the last several years.

To help the chronically and long-term unemployed, Nunley and her colleagues in the community development department designed the STAR course to teach people the skills they need to find and keep a position. The course instructors including Nunley, her colleague Pastor Lou Stoops, and local businesspeople who volunteer their time explain to participants how to assess their skills, develop a resume, apply for jobs, prepare for interviews and dress and act professionally in an interview and at work.

There's consistently a waiting list of about 200 candidates for the two dozen or so slots available for each STAR session. Program staff interview applicants and select those who they deem most ready for and committed to change.

At STAR, these adult learners must meet exacting standards: They must be precisely on time for each class, wear professional business attire in class, and complete all assignments on time. "If you can't do it during the 12 weeks (of STAR), you're not going to be able to do it when you get a job," said Venus Becton, a program graduate. Her STAR class began with 28 participants; less than a dozen graduated; the rest were dismissed for violating the program's rules.

Dominic Bailey participated in STAR in 2008 and got a job at Indianapolis' Fabric Care Center Dry Cleaners and Launderers after completing the program. He said STAR imparts the type of job-seeking wisdom that some people missed growing up. "I learned you've got to be professional. Some people take for granted being professional because they were raised in an environment that they know that. My grandfather (who helped to raise me) was a steel mill worker. He didn't work any business deals. So he didn't teach me how you have to talk to people or how you have to sell yourself to have an opportunity in today's world."

Terri Morris is a STAR graduate who turned to the program in 2006 after she lost her job of 25 years and found herself having to start fresh with learning to apply for jobs and interview. Participating in STAR, she said, she gained confidence in her skills and in her ability to get a job. She has since been hired as a program assistant in the STAR office.

But the resume writing, interview preparation and skill building work are not the most important ingredients in the STAR program, according to STAR staff and graduates. Program manager Nunley said, "The STAR program works because we can incorporate Jesus Christ into it. And, anything He has His hands in can't fail."

Nunley said St. Vincent has given her the leeway to keep Jesus at the center of the program. Every STAR class period begins with a prayer, the class takes prayer requests, they read scripture, they talk through spiritual questions and struggles, and they are encouraged to call the STAR office with their prayer requests. Visiting speakers, too, are encouraged to talk about their faith.

"It is so amazing to see God move in each individual's life," Nunley said. "As the weeks pass by, we hear the testimonies from the students of how their situation that we have prayed about has changed."

She said, "Many (STAR participants) have either given their life to Christ for the very first time or have rekindled their relationship with Him because of the transformation that has taken place while in the classroom."

This type of transformation is important to the participants because many of them made bad choices or have had life experiences that are holding them back, she said. Many students have been incarcerated, some multiple times. Many have been involved with drugs and street life. Many have been homeless. Some have been abused physically and emotionally. Many feel hopeless and like they have no purpose.

Some are still in crisis when they enter the program: They may need to be driven to a shelter, or just allowed time to share a cry.

Nunley gives students her personal phone number. "You have to be willing to meet the participants right where they are and that could be in the wee hours of the morning, in the middle of the night, during your lunchtime. Their crises are urgent to them, and you have to be available."

Morris, the program assistant, said her work is like "undercover ministry" she regularly fields calls of students in crises and talks with them about their troubles and prays with them.

Graduate Bailey experienced his own transformation in STAR. His single mother often left him to his own devices, and in time he turned to street life. "I did what it took to get me some money. But living that type of lifestyle, one minute you don't have nothing and the next you have opportunity."

When he heard about the STAR program in 2007 he decided it was time for a change. In the STAR classes, he said, "Every day I was in class something resonated about my past and made sense. One of the biggest things I learned was that God plays a role in your life, no matter whether you accept Him or not."

Coming to grips with his spirituality helped him realize his own value, he said. "It made me feel there was something special about me because I was allowed to survive and make it through all these trials and tribulations. (The people in STAR) have been a great, positive influence on who I am and where I am today."

Becton, too, had a spiritual awakening in class. She had lost her job during the recession and was harboring a lot of anger as she fruitlessly sought work. The STAR experience taught her not to hold on to bitterness, she said. "They helped me to express myself, and let things go and not to hold onto things, but just to say it, get into your quiet place, pray, tell God all about your problems and leave it there." She said dealing with the anger has given her a positive attitude about seeking a job.

Nunley has seen such transformations in lives of the 300-plus people who have graduated from STAR thus far. "I'm most proud of the individuals that once felt in their lives that they would never amount to anything - that there was no hope for them. Now I see them in a position that allows them to better themselves and to better the lives of their families.

"It is a blessing to know that you helped someone," she said.

The Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), founded in 1915, supports the Catholic health ministry’s commitment to improve the health status of communities and create quality and compassionate health care that works for everyone. The Catholic health ministry is the nation's largest group of not-for-profit health systems and facilities that, along with their sponsoring organizations, employ more than 750,000 women and men who deliver services combining advanced technology with the Catholic caring tradition.

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