Applying for a job can be a scary prospect.
Surely having a chorus of earthly angels appear at your side — strangers who listen to your story, pray for you, occupy your 3-year-old and cheer for you when you succeed — would ease the stress. That's the idea behind the "Better Work" component of Better Together, a Florida nonprofit that, among other things, collaborates with churches to plan job fairs in underserved communities.
Only 2 percent of U.S. churches have an employment ministry, while about 67 percent have a benevolent ministry of some sort, said Leah Hughey, the group's Jacksonville-based director of strategic development. The goal of Better Together is to mobilize the larger numbers to help families escape poverty and, long term, become stronger, she said.
"That's what we're really excited about. We want to get to the rest of those churches that have a heart for the community," she said.
The next Better Together fair — Tuesday at the Clara White Mission in downtown Jacksonville — is tailored to job seekers who have criminal records but is open to the public. The "Second Chances" event will be hosted by the Rev. Jay Harris and his The Ville Church congregation.
"It's like a dream for me. This is the heart of ministry," Harris said. "One of the values for our church is community development. If you're preaching the Gospel but are absent in the community ... "
Better Together, formerly called Flourish Now, was founded three years ago in Naples. Initially it provided volunteer-based community support to help keep families together and children out of foster care.
But founders later recognized they "needed to get a step ahead" by helping to tackle poverty as well, Hughey said. Family breakdowns are "overwhelmingly … economically related," she said. So the nonprofit added an employment component to its mission and enlisted as volunteers the "most powerful — yet the least leveraged — force in America: compassionate volunteers, the local church and a network of businesses and community partners," according to its website.
The Jacksonville office of Better Together opened about 18 months ago with only the employment component. The family program likely will be added locally in 2019, Hughey said.
Harris and The Ville became a partner after Hughey began attending his church. Harris said he quickly envisioned the benefits not only to job seekers but to his congregation.
"I love to see our members have the opportunity to live out what we preach," he said.
The Better Together job fairs are unlike any other.
The minute job seekers enter, they are "loved on," Harris said. They can talk to church members about their struggles or just get prayers and encouragement for their meetings with employers. They can meet with representatives of other nonprofits and organizations for case management or other resources or be connected with job coaches for help with resumes and other job-related matters.
About 20 employers, including UPS, the city of Jacksonville and a variety of staffing agencies, will be at Tuesday's job fair, Hughey said.
Anyone who is offered a job on the spot gets to ring a special bell, which draws applause from everyone in the room.
"People standing around celebrating people who make that leap," Harris said. "Reminding people of their dignity."
Better Together and their partner organizations follow up with people who don't leave with a job, alerting them to future fairs, workshops or support groups and helping meet other needs. The collaboration of the nonprofit's long list of employer and social service partners, Hughey said, is "living proof that we're better together."
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109