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Jewish Journal

A Beacon of Hope

Jewish Vocational Services offers diverse programs to help Los Angelenos develop their careers.


by David Evanier

October 26, 2000 | 8:00 pm

Carlanna is a young woman who was paralyzed in a car accident in high school. She is now a producer with the "Judge Judy" show. Alex is a qualified doctor from the Ukraine who cannot work in his profession here. He is now a highly successful radiology technician. Irene was a newly divorced mother on welfare in the depths of despair. She is now a fundraiser working on the corporate level and providing services and support to single mothers.

These are among the hundreds of success stories generated each year by Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), examples of people overcoming great obstacles to achieve career growth in order to support themselves and their families. JVS is a beacon of hope in the greater Los Angeles area for those who are looking for work or career advancement.

A not-for-profit organization founded in 1931, JVS offers high-quality programs to individuals, businesses and agencies related to job seeking, career planning, skills assessment, training and retraining. It helps people find work and redirect their careers. It has developed a strong network between employers and employees and has assisted multimillion-dollar firms in finding qualified employees.

Vivian Seigel, executive vice president and CEO of JVS, says the mission of the group is "to do whatever it takes to help people build, enhance or change their careers. Our clients are as diverse as L.A., from newly arrived refugees and immigrants looking for their first jobs in the U.S. to clients with disabilities who are trying to determine if they can go back to work, to a welfare recipient transitioning from welfare to work, to a high level CEO who's just been laid off from his or her company or who is a product of mergers and acquisitions."

At least 25 percent of the 6,000-plus clients JVS serves are African-American or Latino. "We are a big believer in bringing our services out to the community," Seigel states.

JVS runs employment services for the city of West Hollywood and has staff at Santa Monica College, three Urban League sites and at an East L.A. Lockheed location as well. It also has staff at high schools such as Fairfax, Monroe, and West Side Opportunity Center.

JVS has a staff of certified vocational evaluators and rehabilitation counselors. Its multilingual staff of 69 can do assessments in English, Spanish, Russian, Armenian, Yiddish, Farsi, Vietnamese, French and American Sign Language. "We think that if we have a service that we offer well," Seigel says, "we should be sharing that service with anyone who can use it, and vice versa."

Seigel cites client assessment as one area of JVS strength. "That's the ability to assess someone's strengths and weaknesses and make employment recommendations," she explains. JVS runs the assessment labs at the Urban League sites and staffs the career resource centers at the East L.A. One Stop.

A One Stop "is a comprehensive center funded by either the city or the county providing employment and training services," explains Angie Cooper, director of workforce development for JVS.

Cooper oversees the organizations that Workforce Investment Act contracts with, groups like the Urban League and East L.A. One Stop. At the centers, Cooper says, "we have evaluators who administer vocational tests to determine someone's basic skill levels. Our evaluators make people feel comfortable. They know that most of these clients may not have been in school for years."

JVS offers a wide variety of programs that instill hope in those who are seeking to restructure and rebuild their lives. It offers a Jewish 12-step program that includes career development and employment assistance for people who have been through the penal system, the majority of whom have had substance abuse problems. The program, offered in collaboration with Gateways Hospital, is called Beit T'Shuvah (House of Return).

JVS also helps refugees from the former Soviet Union receive customized training in fields expected to grow rapidly during the next decade. These students receive English as a Second Language instruction. JVS gives employment services to residents of the Sydney M. Irmas Traditional Living Center, a North Hollywood shelter. JVS' employment center, located at the shelter, helped more than 240 residents conduct their job search efforts this year and prepare for reentry to the workforce.

The organization also helps high school students who want to pursue higher education obtain scholarships to supplement financial aid packages, and it works with the State Department of Rehabilitation to deal with people who have disabilities, including mental health issues, physical disabilities, and visual and hearing impairments.

JVS aids senior workers cope with age bias through the Seniors Achieving Generational Equity (SAGE) support group. SAGE members are eligible to strengthen their technology skills at SkillsPlus!, a JVS computer training center."Whether it be a substance abuse center that we partner with," Seigel explains, "or a homeless shelter or a domestic violence center, we know that in order to break the recidivism cycle, you have to be able to come in and help people become self-sufficient. And you have to give them the tools to do that while they have a roof over their head and food in their stomach."

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