Freda Ceaser is one of the many people who makes daily connections to ensure that Central City Concern’s Supportive Employment model is not simply a model. It is also a way of being with people who can benefit from additional supports. Freda works as an Employment Specialist. She views maintaining and building relationships with people as the most important part of her job.
A central component to building sustainable relationships is developing trust. “If I can initiate trust so that people know that I am there for them, and that they can call me, they will trust me even when times are tough,” says Freda. She builds trust over time and accepts people for who and where they are in their journey. She explains that ultimately it is about walking the path alongside the people she is working with.
Employment is often overlooked as a priority for people transitioning out of homelessness who are also living with mental illness, substance use, and prior criminal histories. But Central City Concern believes that Supported Employment is essential to recovery, sustained housing tenure, and self-sufficiency. Supported Employment is an evidence-based practice. The agency conducted a two-year retrospective study on the impact of their Individual Placements in Supported Employment program. The study revealed a 71% success rate of employment across twelve work sectors, 31% higher than the typical rate for this model.
Walking a path with someone means sharing a cup of coffee, shopping for clothes, talking at the park, and reaching out in non-traditional settings. Freda thinks it would be very difficult to connect with people by sitting behind a desk. People are not numbers or cases to be completed, and she sees Central City Concern’s approach as one that taps into everyone’s humanity, offering connection.
Freda knows hopelessness first hand and this makes a difference in her ability to communicate a message of hope. Freda is in recovery from life experiences, her childhood, and time in prison. A large percentage of the people she works with have experienced time in prison, mental illness, substance use, and homelessness, which can make finding employment very difficult. “When I was paroled I did not have the assistance of a Supported Employment Specialist. It was a scary feeling, knowing I was ready to change my life but having just left an institution,” says Freda.
She allows people the space they need to transform and take the next step towards change. She is passionate about this work and genuinely cares for people in unfortunate circumstances. “I think people deserve a second chance. Their families give up on them and it is my job to help people realize they are worth it,” says Freda.
In 2004, when Freda was paroled she went to Central City Concern for an employment orientation. The woman working behind the desk had been in prison with her. Freda explains that she saw this woman and was inspired by her visible growth. Within minutes she learned there was another job opening at Central City. She immediately applied for it, was hired, and eventually moved from a desk position to her current role as Employment Specialist.
Freda’s day is marked by a willingness to reach out and do whatever it takes to support people in their search for meaningful employment. For part of her day, she spends time conducting check-ins with people who may have an immediate crisis, or people she will accompany on a job search. Freda spends time with the people she works with. “I may pick up someone who lives in Forest Park, take someone shopping for clothes, or work on coaching for an interview,” says Freda. Freda explains that she holds hope for people who are down on themselves. She believes in people even when they don’t believe in their own ability to succeed and remains true to her commitment. She guides people in taking small steps.
Freda is required to meet with six employers face-to-face each week for job development. Relationship building with potential employers has been essential to the success of the program. Freda remarks that she often finds herself educating employers. “We explain how our program works and we are honest. We are very clear about the challenges that people face and we focus on the strengths of everyone we are working with. We are talking about a person here,” says Freda. Employment Specialists are always one phone call away for employers who decide to work with the agency. Freda also explains the individual’s plan for recovery to the employer. She does everything she can to support both employers and people who are gaining employment.
“I believe that people are always capable of changing and this program provides people with that opportunity day after day. It is a blessing. When others give up, we keep going,” says Freda.
To learn more about Supported Employment, visit HRC’s Topic Page on Employment.
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