Beyond Charity: Organization Mobilizes Churches for Employment Outreach

Published July 1, 2007

A pastor and a building contractor make for an unlikely partnership, but the Reverend Donald L. McCoy, pastor of the Pleasant Hill United Church of Christ, and Chris Magnum, head of a major contracting company in Raleigh, North Carolina, have joined forces to mobilize churches through a business venture called Jobs for Life.

Jobs for Life was launched more than a decade ago, after Magnum mentioned to McCoy over lunch that many of his company’s trucks were parked because of a lack of good drivers. McCoy replied that many in his congregation were effectively “parked” because of a lack of meaningful employment.

The conversation sparked a movement rooted in the principle of instilling attitudes, values, and life skills that people can apply in the context of employment. Jobs for Life, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formerly known as National Jobs Partnership and based in Raleigh, centers on a strategy of bringing businesses together with churches and community organizations.

Today, Jobs for Life has more than 80 active sites and 1,200 to 1,500 volunteers engaged in implementing the program across the country.

The majority of program participants are homeless, chronically unemployed, or formerly incarcerated–which makes the success rate for the program especially impressive. The organization estimates about 80 percent of Jobs for Life graduates remain employed more than a year after completing the program.

Life Skills

Jobs for Life CEO David Spickard, who has been with the nonprofit since 1999, attributes the program’s success to the unique idea of teaching individuals life skills rather than just employment skills.

“Many companies teach the hard employment skills, but they have little time to teach individuals values and attitudes that make a person whole. That must be taken care of before they arrive,” Spickard said.

“Jobs for Life teaches a man or woman life principles that can be applied in the marketplace,” Spickard continued. “Things like conflict resolution, respect for authority, and taking responsibility for one’s own actions are concepts we try to cultivate in people through the program.”

Spickard highlighted the positives that accompany employment.

“When someone has a meaningful job, it enables the person to get out of debt and save for a home or retirement,” Spickard explained. “Communities are given hope, marriages are restored, and positive behavior is modeled to children who see their parents working.”

1,500 This Year

Jobs for Life expects to serve about 1,500 people this year, up from 300 a few years ago. The cost per person served has dropped from around $2,000 when the organization began to approximately $150 today.

Spickard says these positive changes are due mostly to a change in strategy implemented a few years ago. Rather than try to create a new nonprofit in each community to work with local churches, they decided to equip existing organizations with the Jobs for Life tools. This strategy offers a more efficient approach.

Under the new plan, churches and community organizations can purchase a Jobs for Life toolkit complete with 10 student workbooks, instructor guides, student progress reports, and other tools. Each participant attends about 16 two-hour training sessions and meets with a mentor, called a “Champion,” outside the class at least once a week.

“It is a real honor for us to reach out to those hurting the most and to equip organizations with the right tools and let them implement the program as part of what they already do,” Spickard said.

Volunteers Key

Volunteers are pivotal to the success of the program. On average, each Jobs for Life site has about 15 to 20 volunteers who regularly help with the program, plus extra volunteers to help with food and transportation. Business leaders often speak to groups or do mock job interviews pro bono.

The majority of funding for Jobs for Life comes from individual donations. The organization accepts no government funds, which gives them added flexibility, Spickard said.

By partnering with churches to help individuals gain vital skills for meaningful employment, Jobs for Life has tapped into a resource that has traditionally not been used for employment assistance.

New Message

“Only 1 percent of churches in America do any outreach related to employment. Jobs for Life is treading new ground and carrying a new message to churches and community nonprofits,” Spickard said. “We are showing them how they can teach people to fish, rather than just giving them a fish.”

Free market and limited government advocates applaud Jobs for Life for demonstrating the private sector is capable of replacing employment programs financed and operated by the state.

“Jobs for Life is putting into practice what we’ve been saying for years: The private sector is more than capable of stepping in to meet the needs of the community without first resorting to taxes and government programs,” said Jason Mercier, economic policy director for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington. “To help spur new charitable employment programs, state officials need to facilitate the market by scaling back government-run and -funded work programs.”

Amber Gunn ([email protected]) is a policy analyst for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s Economic Policy Center.

For more information …

Jobs for Life,, or email [email protected]