When the economy crashed in 2008, Dana Coleman went from working 60-plus hours a week rehabbing houses to scrambling for work.
Having learned a strong work ethic from his military-career father, Coleman — who has carpentry, plumbing, electrical and other skills — wasn’t about to give up. He worked side jobs whenever possible. He even tried starting his own business: a tree cutting service, launched with a chain saw he bought at a pawn shop.
Still, countless job applications and much frustration later, Coleman ended up homeless and out of work.
“I didn’t even have enough money for the bus,” said the now-57-year-old Caledonia resident.
It wasn’t until he connected with Racine Vocational Ministry Inc. that Coleman said he again felt hopeful about his future.
“RVM put the tools in my hands that I could use to find a job,” he said.
While living in his car, Coleman worked to complete a “bootcamp” certificate program in industrial machine repair through Gateway Technical College. And RVM helped him achieve that goal, with its Solutions for Success program, one-on-one counseling and other support services.
“They helped me stay focused,” Coleman said. “They helped me keep my sanity.”
‘Failure was not an option’
Coleman’s RVM case manager also provided him with a computer, which was a huge help in completing his many hours of homework, he said.
“That was a godsend,” Coleman said. “When he gave it to me he told me it was under one condition — if I didn’t pass, I’d have to give it up.”
But failure was far from Coleman’s mind. “I’d already been as low as I could go, failure was not an option,” he said.
Instead, he made sure he was the first person in class and the last one to leave — trying to learn all he could. And his efforts paid off, as Coleman was eventually placed in a job at Bombardier Recreational Products in Sturtevant, where he worked for several years with the maintenance department in a temporary position.
Today, Coleman is happily employed in a permanent position at Niagara Bottling in Pleasant Prairie — and RVM played a significant role in getting him there, he said.
“They were a light for me when it was dark,” Coleman said. “They didn’t sugar coat nothing and they didn’t promise anything,” he said. “You have to work to make it happen. But they put their heart, soul and mind into trying to help people and it would be shameful to not put in effort for them.”
More than job placement
Coleman’s is one of hundreds of stories of transformation that have come out of Racine Vocational Ministry in its more than 13 years of service to the community of Racine County. The faith-based, nonprofit organization, located at 214 Seventh St., recently passed a new milestone, having placed more than 3,000 workers in jobs.
Yet job placement is just part of what RVM does, said James Schatzman, RVM executive director.
RVM’s approach is a holistic one that cares for and addresses the whole person. Its staff and programs work to transform people’s lives, which may have been sidelined by addiction, crime and despair, into productive ones.
One example the director gave is a woman who served prison time for reckless endangerment/DUI charges, and through RVM turned her life around by getting (and remaining) clean and sober; going back to school and returning to her chosen profession of accounting. Another is that of a man who went from being lost and hopeless to working for the City of Racine and becoming a homeowner.
And the list goes on and on.
“The journeys these people have taken to put their lives back together, and the support they’ve gotten from RVM to do it, is incredible,” Schatzman said.
Many people who come to RVM have a long history of failure, and they define themselves by that failure, he said. “We have to get them to think differently about how they approach life.”
Doing so isn’t easy, Schatzman said. But helping people learn things such as how to be empathetic and compassionate to the people around them is essential to their success in the workplace, and in the community, he said.
“One of the most important things we do is help people connect the dots, so that they can start to make better decisions,” he said. “It’s not enough to be good at your job, you have to be a good person.”
A key element to RVM’s success, said board member Bill Matelski, is its case management staff. The agency chooses its case managers very carefully, using specific metrics tools to help determine the best candidates for the job, he said. And they’ve found there are a few shared elements among all the case managers that make them good at what they do.
“These are genuine, sincere people, and that’s what makes this organization perform better than some other, more traditional systems,” said Matelski, 67, a life-long Racine County resident, living in Mount Pleasant.
Their priority, along with that of everyone at RVM, he said, is to be able to change people’s lives for the better — both for those individuals and for the greater community.
“Most people think of RVM as an employment agency, but that is not the end product of our work,” Matelski said. “Yes, we get people jobs, and reaching our 3,000th placement was a great accomplishment. But what we really do is transform people’s lives.”
Matt Schimmel, a Racine Vocational Ministry participant, has been working at Styberg Engineering, 1600 Goold St. in Racine, for several years. Schimmel is one of more than 3,000 workers RVM has placed in jobs since the nonprofit organization’s inception in 2002.
SCOTT ANDERSON, Journal Times file photo.
This article was originally published in the Racine Journal Times.