“We’re there to serve – that’s our vision,” says Sheila Johnson, program director of the Southwest Community Development Corporation (SCDC) and manager of the Charlotte Works’ SNAP (Share Network Access Point) site at Nations Ford Community Church.
“You have to have the heart of a servant. You have to do this with the right intention – be willing to meet people where they are,” she continues. “Relationships are very fragile, and when developing relationships with those we’re trying to serve, you have to be very careful.”
She and the church serve some of the southwest Charlotte community’s hardest-to-serve citizens, including single women who hold only high school diplomas or two-year degrees and have children and men with criminal backgrounds.
It’s all part of the vision of the 3,000-member-strong church, which has served its neighborhood for 26 years; more than 10 years ago, it launched the SCDC to expand its outreach through employment, housing and quality-of-life initiatives; and business development services. The SNAP site opened in 2012.
“We’re seeking to help people in distressed areas where the economy has worsened their conditions,” explains Johnson, who joined the staff as a volunteer in January in an effort to revitalize the SNAP site, which nearly closed due to staffing issues. She notes the value of the site to the community, since many neighbors don’t have computers or Internet access.
She calls herself “a talker” and says she meets SNAP site clients at a nearby Wal-Mart and canvasses the neighborhood around the church to let residents know about the services. Those folks who visit the site have spread the word.
While the site averages only six or seven visitors each month, it boasts excellent anecdotal success: one of the women Johnson met at Wal-Mart had her resume reviewed and then landed a job, as did a woman who was a guest during the church’s winter Room In The Inn participation for homeless citizens. And two clients who attended a May “Employee Bootcamp” also have gained employment.
At that event, approximately 15 people met with recruiters and employment experts from Vanguard and the church to participate in mock interviews, resume reviews and a workshop on using LinkedIn; they also had professional headshots taken for their online profiles.
The SCDC hosted a second event featuring 10 employers on September 20.
Johnson says the SCDC aims to “have people not just land, but improve their quality of life and evolve into the whole person they could be – manage your finances, expand through career development.”
To that end, she hopes to develop a mentoring program so that clients have continuous support and can avoid life events turning into crises.
“Employment is a necessity,” says Johnson. “To be a resource for the church and the community – to give clients the skills and support they need to be contributing members of society – it’s not just a job, but a call to serve.”