By Julia Henn / Photos by Helen Kinser
On the warm sunny morning of June 2nd, the staff of StepUp Durham joined with Rabbi Daniel Greyber of Beth El Synagogue and Rabbi Larry Bach of Judea Reform Congregation to host a conversation on the intersection of jobs and justice. Huddled around the tables of the Levin Jewish Community Center, the group discussed:
- The dignity of work in the Jewish tradition
- The impact StepUp has made on the Bull City since its opening in October 2015
- How hiring from StepUp can alleviate some of the concerns employers have with hiring job candidates living on the margins of society
Rabbi Bach opened the morning’s discussion by revealing how passages from the Avot d’Rabbi Natan, the Book of Deuteronomy, and the Mishneh Torah emphasize that there is dignity in every type of work. Then, he elaborated on the proper relationship between employer and employee, pointing out that members of the Jewish community are “obligated to see work as a positive thing in [their] lives.” Work, explained Bach, is something human beings are instructed to “love” within the Jewish tradition. This “love of work,” added Greyber, is not about emotion, but rather a deep sense of commitment and respect to the practice and purpose of work within human communities.
Erin Roesch, StepUp’s Director of Development and Employer Recruitment, followed the rabbinic teaching with an introduction to StepUp Durham and an articulation of how StepUp fosters “love of work” within people and communities. She explained how StepUp began when a few dedicated people in Raleigh came together in an effort to do something about the prevalence of homelessness in the state capital. At first, this passionate group focused on rapid re-housing, but as time went on, they began to focus more on workforce development. Now, 25 years later, StepUp has formed branches in Raleigh, Greensboro, and Durham. Roesch continued by pointing out that, since opening on October 15th 2015, StepUp Durham has formed “deep trusting relationships” with over 40 employers in the triangle, and has placed 36 people into jobs with an average wage of $10.08 per hour.
In the final chapter of the morning, employers brought up some of the concerns they have encountered while trying to develop a more diverse workforce. One employer voiced concerns about how hiring individuals with a criminal background may increase their liability as a healthcare company. Another described how past “second chances” given to employees have backfired. Roesch explained that StepUp can help manage all of these risks by providing reliable candidate screening and support to both employers and employees. Roesch informed the group about several state and federal programs that incentivize and reward businesses that hire candidates with barriers to employment. These include federal bonding, on-the-job training, and tax incentives.
At the end of the hour, several businesses were prepared to hire. “I think the [StepUp] workshop structure sounds like the best possible interview process for a company,” stated Ari Medoff, owner and CEO of Nurse Care of North Carolina, “and I’m excited to begin our partnership with StepUp because I do believe that if someone is successful in graduating from that week-long program that there’s a significantly higher chance that they will come in and be ready for working with Nurse Care.”
Julia Henn is a student at American University who has generously volunteered her time as a StepUp intern this semester.