Thursday, February 27, 2014, MAYWOOD || By Michael Romain
Updated: Monday, March 3, 2014
At first glance, Charles Hunt and Lynn Maloley make a rather odd couple, despite sharing an atypical passion for their jobs and a rare workplace buoyancy.
Mr. Hunt grew up in the Henry Horner Projects. At 17, he became a father. A year later, he found himself raising his child alone, just like his mother who raised him. He sold drugs to get by and fell into the wrong influences. Eventually, though, he managed to pull off a 180 degree life change, enrolling in Illinois State University and majoring in applied computer science.
Ms. Maloley is a former special education teacher and adult literacy instructor at Heartland Alliance. Few of the young people who come to her looking for work would guess that she’s from Gary, Indiana. She probably likes it that way.
Together, the duo form the core of the Illinois WorkNet Center’s youth employment program, which is responsible for linking young people, ages 18 to 21, with jobs and the skills necessary to execute them.
“Charles and I bring different perspectives to what we do. We have a really, really high level of retention,” said Ms. Maloley.
“Once we get kids placed in school and work, they keep coming back. We have a big word of mouth game, which is great. The kids like us and respect us, because we don’t treat them as a number.”
Mr. Hunt, who discovered his passion for working with young people while volunteering at the Bloomington Boys and Girls Club during his senior year of college, said that he often sees youth dealing with the same problems he himself faced as a young person.
“We get it all–homelessness, low levels of literacy, scattered work histories, no work histories, drug use, low levels of self-esteem, ex-offenders,” he said.
The WorkNet Center’s director, Deborah Wright, hopes that more Cook County youth and adults alike who need employment make their way to the Center’s new location on the first floor of the Eisenhower Tower at 1701 S. First Avenue in Maywood.
The WorkNet Center, which opened at Eisenhower Tower on January 29th, had previously been located inside of the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) on 19th and St. Charles Rd. in Maywood. Ms. Cronberg said that the difference between the two locations is rather stark.
“It’s so much cleaner here [in the Eisenhower Tower],” she said. “There’s ample parking and bus service [Pace Suburban Bus Service recently added a new route, the 320, with drop-off and pick-up service right in front of the WorkNet Center]. At St. Charles, we couldn’t let people in the front door for weeks, because the sidewalks were under construction. As a result, our customer flow was really for the last couple of months when we were there.”
Mrs. Wright said that when the IDES office closed, many people thought the WorkNet Center had closed with it. However, she’s quick to reinforce the point that WorkNet, unlike IDES, which primarily handles unemployment benefits, is focused on employment.
Another crucial distinction is that unlike IDES, Illinois WorkNet is not a state agency; its funding comes through the Chicago Cook Workforce partnership. The Maywood-based WorkNet Center, which services people from Tinley Park, the north side of Chicago, Oak Park and Forest Park, among other areas, is one of ten such Centers throughout Cook County.
Mrs. Wright believes that the present Maywood location–with its comparatively bright, airy ambience and office feel–will also serve as a physical point of departure between the new and improved WorkNet and its former location inside of IDES on St. Charles.
“We’re trying to be a center of hope,” she said. “You’re not supposed to enter a place and feel downtrodden. People are already down enough when they’re unemployed. They should go to a place where they feel uplifted and treated with respect.”
With the unemployment office at St. Charles virtually closed and WorkNet now located in a space of its own, the tendency to confuse the two should lessen dramatically.
As to precisely where the unemployment office would go now that its St. Charles location is closed, Mrs. Wright said that the future of most unemployment services in Illinois is mostly online or over-the-phone.
“The State is closing pretty much all of the unemployment offices,” she said. “The point is to go exclusively to call centers. For instance, the Lombard center will close to the public within a month, but it will still be open as a call center.”
In an article published in the Daily Herald last month, Greg Rivara, a spokesman with IDES, said that the move to virtual service is simply more cost effective.
“It’s more cost effective and easier to distribute unemployment through the Internet and on the phone,” Rivara said.
However, Rivara also noted that people will still be able to go to physical locations to receive the kinds of skills that the WorkNet Center offers. Young people and adults looking to create resumes or build on existing ones; use computers, telephones, fax machines and photocopiers on job-related activities; receive in-person advice from counselors such as Charles Hunt and Lynn Maloley; participate in workshops designed to enhance interviewing skills, resumes and job search techniques; and engage in other career-enhancing activities can visit the Center
In today’s economy, the ability to find a job or transition from one career to another isn’t just the province of teenagers and young adults. Mrs. Wright said that older adults are a growing demographic among the Center’s clientele.
“We’re seeing a lot of people who thought they were going to retire from their companies, but who still need to work in their 50s and 60s,” she said. “We’re definitely seeing a lot of older workers with great experience, but who are finding it very difficult trying to replicate what they were earning in their previous jobs.
“One of the things we talk about in our workshops is how to address the issue of age and turn it into a positive. We go into those issues in detail. We help them practice, because they’ve got to be comfortable with their responses. Agism is real and we deal with it head-on. We don’t pretend it doesn’t exist, but we look at strategies to get past it.” VFP
For more information on the Illinois WorkNet Center, please visit its website by clicking here, or call (708) 223-2652.
Corrections: The previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Deborah Wright, the Center’s director, as Deborah Cronberg. In addition, the wrong phone number was provided. These mistakes have since been emended.