United Way of Bristol initiates “Jobs for Life” program


Photo above: Jobs for Life Director or Training & Leadership Development Shay Bethea teaches Bristol Jobs for Life volunteers about relational poverty. Photo courtesy JFL

By Scott Robertson

“You hear about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish,” says Scott Emerine, the chairman of the Jobs for Life steering committee for the United Way of Bristol. “What we’re finding more and more in society now is that we have to teach the importance of fishing before we teach how to fish. Jobs for Life doesn’t just teach students how to obtain jobs. It teaches how important jobs are.”

It’s an unfortunate fact that some in the community find it’s easier to stay out of work than to hold a job. “Nothing attacks one’s dignity like a lack of work,” says Lisa Cofer, executive director of United Way of Bristol, who says some individuals will hold a job until having that job is about to infringe upon their ability to collect other benefits, then will leave the job to stay “on the dole.”

It’s those people the United Way of Bristol is hoping to reach with the Jobs for Life program, Emerine says. “So often, the focus is on food, clothing, shelter, and health care. We feel if we can help people obtain jobs, then the other items needed will diminish as graduates grow and are mentored.”

The program is strongly faith-based, Cofer says. “Jobs for Life believes the solution to unemployment lies in the local church. By training, equipping and connecting churches, ministries and businesses Jobs for Life helps prepare men and women for meaningful work.”

Churches and community programs identify candidates for the program, Emerine says. Local businesses provide instructors and churches provide mentors. The program takes about eight weeks to teach skills to help individuals gain employment.

“This is not a job placement agency,” Emerine says. “We realize we can’t just give them a certificate after eight weeks, pat them on the back and say, ‘good luck and do well.’ We will follow these students and be able to fuel their self-worth.”

The first training session for JFL volunteers took place at the United Way of Bristol TN/VA offices Aug. 29, with around two dozen citizens taking part. Sixteen total classes will be held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings beginning this month.

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