It's a good day when someone gets to squeeze the rubber chicken at Phoenix Employment Ministry.
The protracted elastic wail of the rubber chicken sitting on a wire shelf in the center's conference room in downtown Wilmington might not seem like a proper victory call. But to people searching for work and - at long last - finding it through Phoenix, the rubber chicken equals peace of mind.
Last week, Phoenix Ministry celebrated 10 years of helping the Port City's homeless and near-homeless find work in one of the toughest economies in a century. And in the same week, the ministry saw the most clients ever at its monthly orientation -- 20. And because of staffing, it could only admit 12 people into its job training and seeking program. People who were turned away can return to the next training.
That's the extreme challenge of a local economy with 10 percent unemployment, said the Rev. Don Skinner, Phoenix's executive director.
"Looking for work is the hardest job of all," Skinner said. "In 2007, we helped 98 people find jobs, and last year we helped 53 because jobs are so hard to find. There's a lot of rejection, and it can be extremely depressing for people."
So through the years, Phoenix has evolved into more than just a place where you come to learn phone, Internet and job interview skills. It's all that, too, of course.
But Skinner saw the need in his clients for a place of love and support to boost their self-esteem and self-worth.
That's where the ministry comes into play. Each morning, the clients have a devotion and prayer time.
People are looking for hope most of all, Skinner said. That can be seen in the pages of testimonies from past clients.
"There are no strangers in this world “only friends we haven’t met yet”. Phoenix taught me that wonderful lesson," wrote a client named Norman.
Another client named Michelle wrote: "One thing that stands out to me the most is that I used to think people were always judgmental about the fact that I am a Muslim. I found that I am more judgmental than anyone else in regards to that. Coming here has made me appreciate the fact that all of us are different yet we all face some of the same obstacles."
Clients come to Phoenix on a first come, first served basis, many referred through the ministry's partner agencies such as Good Shepherd Center, the New Hanover County Department of Social Services and the Wilmington Interfaith Hospitality Network. Most of the clients are homeless or at risk for homelessness. Because more than half of their clients have criminal records, clients role play how to put that experience in a more postitive light with a job interviewer.
"It's learning to market themselves from the time they get up in the morning until they go home," Skinner said.
The ministry is looking to double its capacity so it can help more clients during each training, and next year it plans to start the Rise Up Program to follow up with clients who have found work and help them stay employed.
Phoenix Advisory Council member Judy Shaw said the biggest benefit of the ministry is "they form their own family, do devotions and go around the room and check in with each other. It gives them hope and a place to go where they are supported and loved."
In a testimonial, a client named Dawn wrote that she had no hope when she came to Phoenix Employment Ministry.
"Now I dream and reach for more than what is okay or average, I want more, and now I know that I deserve it," she said. "That is the gift that Phoenix is... that is the magic that lives in this office. Phoenix doesn’t exist just to find people jobs. It exists to repair broken souls."