Missouri Job Center programs help Springfield couple get back on their feet after medical, financial crises

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Melissa and Patrick, with their caseworker Jessica Hunt, at a Leadership Springfield Access Class presentation at the Oasis Hotel and Convention  Center.

“2018 was not a good year for our family,” said Patrick, as he reflected on a year that in his words “is thankfully over.”

“We had grown accustomed to a middle-class lifestyle, but that was taken from us due to a series of unfortunate events and circumstances beyond our control,” he said.

Despite being college-educated, both Patrick and his wife Melissa, who preferred not to use their last name in this article, found themselves in situational poverty due to medical crises that prevented them from working.

In early 2018, Melissa, a K-12 art teacher at a rural school, began experiencing extreme back pain to the point where she needed a walker or wheelchair to get around her classroom. She said she continued teaching despite the pain because she hadn’t been at her job for the year required by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act for job protection. Eventually, Melissa had surgery, even though it meant going without pay for several weeks.

The same month as Melissa’s surgery, Patrick suffered a back injury, causing debilitating pain that caused him to have to quit his job as an over-the-road truck driver.

With both of them unable to work, they began to go through their savings quickly.

“I was panicking about running out of money because our nest egg was being depleted,” Melissa said. “So even though I was in extreme pain, I went back to work too soon after surgery. This caused my back to not heal properly and I could no longer perform many of the physical duties of teaching art. I ended up having to quit at the end of the school year anyway, and a second surgery was in my future.”

The medical and financial crises began to take their toll on the couple’s marriage.

“All of this put a tremendous strain on our marriage and we wound up separating for four months,” Melissa said. Not knowing where else to turn for help, Melissa signed up for government assistance through the Missouri Work Assistance Program’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) at the Missouri Job Center.

“I met my MWA caseworker, Jessica Hunt, the day before my second surgery,” Melissa said. “I was anxious about my financial state, but Jessica understood and worked with my recovery schedule.”

Once she recovered from the second surgery, Jessica suggested Melissa enroll in Change One Thousand, an eight-day pre-employment academy offered at the Missouri Job Center’s 2900 E. Sunshine location that teaches soft skills, job search techniques and interview skills.

“Through the class I learned that I didn’t really know how to market myself to employers and that’s why I was not getting any replies to the countless applications I had been filling out,” Melissa said. “I didn’t even realize how badly I needed these pre-employment skills to get back into the job market, especially at the professional level,” she said.

“Another class I found extremely helpful was the interviewing skills class, where I learned about behavioral-based questions that employers ask. These types of questions were new to me, so I practiced answering them until I had the confidence to answer almost anything an employer would throw at me. I couldn’t wait to share all I’d been learning with Patrick,” Melissa said.

Upon his wife’s suggestion, Patrick applied to the MWA program and enrolled in Change One Thousand.

“Jessica understood how badly we were struggling,” Patrick said. “Our car had recently broken down, and we had been borrowing a car from a family member to get to classes and interviews. Jessica helped us to get our car fixed, replace the bald tires and get the oil changed. It was a huge help to us to know we would have safe and reliable transportation,” he added.

Patrick did not own a suit to wear to job interviews, so Jessica arranged for the couple to visit the job center’s Career Closet, which provides up to two sets of professional clothing for those actively seeking a job or need professional clothing to wear on the first days of a new job.

After attending several classes at the job center, Patrick’s online resume was reviewed by the American Red Cross. Patrick not only got the interview, but later accepted a full-time position as a phlebotomist and mobile blood center driver.

Melissa is taking classes to keep her counseling and teaching credentials intact, with the goal of attaining full-time employment in the near future.

“The Missouri Job Center has not only helped me find employment and help Melissa continue her education, but it has changed our lives for the better. We can’t thank them enough,” Patrick said.

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