Special to the Daily News
Mark Keller of Pineville is one of hundreds of Eastern Kentuckians who have learned that “people lead people to jobs” by attending Job Clubs of Eastern Kentucky.
Keller found a job as a deli and stock worker at Long’s Pic Pac in Pineville with the help of the Bell County Job Club,
“I like my new job very much,” he said with a smile.
A job club is a small group of job seekers who meet with local workforce professionals every Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Pineville-Bell County Public Library, 214 S. Walnut Street. The group members provide support for each other while networking, sharing job leads, and learning techniques for improving their job searches from the workforce professionals, local businesspeople, and other invited guests.
The combination of support, networking, and job-search education makes job club members much more successful at getting a job than those who search alone.
The free job club is sponsored by the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP), the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training (OET), and the Bell-Whitley Community Action Agency (BWCAA). It draws on the sponsors’ expertise and contacts to provide the job club’s members with information, job search skills, job leads, networking, and chances to meet with and learn from local employers.
Keller has a good work ethic and a tendency to be faithful and reliable on a job, but he has also had a difficult life and a series of tragedies that have set him back.
Born legally deaf, he was put in foster care at age 10 and went through 28 foster homes before he found stable parents. He went to work as a 16-year-old for a sign maker and stayed for 14 years, but when his best friend died he left that job and drifted for a while, heartbroken and aimless.
Those setbacks established a pattern. Keller worked for Goodwill for 15 years in the warehouse and as a truck driver, but left that job and drifted after his mother died. He then worked at Winn Dixie as a bakery specialist for 14 years. He left that job because his wife wanted to come to Kentucky to see his family, but his deepest personal tragedy yet was coming.
His wife died of kidney and liver failure within a week of arriving in Kentucky. The shock of this loss started another downward slide, this one so bad that he eventually ended up in a homeless shelter. It was his sister-in-law who told Keller “you’ve got to get back to work” and encouraged him to seek help from the Bell County Job Club.
The Bell County Job Club staff helped Keller find job leads and update his resume. They also linked him to a Workforce Investment Act (WIA) career adviser and other services that helped him get an apartment, a hearing aid, and other things he needed to get his life back in order.
Pam Wilson, Keller’s WIA career adviser, said she was impressed with how serious Keller was about trying to find a job, and with how he showed his willingness to work by volunteering at a local church while he was job hunting.
“He was very eager to get a job,” Wilson said.
Through the job club and WIA, Keller was able to find his current job at Long’s Pic Pac. The work is familiar to him because of his time at Winn Dixie, his supervisors are happy with his work, and he expects to stay with this job.
“I’ve just decided I’m here until I croak,” Keller said with a laugh.
He said he appreciates how the job club helped him find a work he can do well in a field he has experience in.
“Without the help of job club I probably would have had to take a job I didn’t want to do,” Keller said.
Sandy Hoskins, leader of the Bell County Job Club, said its goal is to connect people with the employers that best suit them, and she is proud of each job club member who “graduates” to a job like Keller did.
“He’s a great example of our “jobs for people, people for jobs,” motto in action,” Hoskins said.
To contact the Bell County Job Club, call 337-3044 ext. 205. To find out more about Job Clubs of Eastern Kentucky or to find the job club nearest you, call 1-877-512-WORK. Find Job Clubs of Eastern Kentucky on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jobclubseky.