Many Americans consider their jobs a central part of their identities and regard employment as a virtue, but for millions of people, the cycle of economic booms and busts make it difficult to find and keep a job. The Chicago job market has largely recovered from the most recent economic collapse, with a March 2015 unemployment rate of 6 percent, but these numbers can hide the countless individuals who are underemployed, those who have stopped looking for a job, and those who cannot work due to a disability or other condition. Luckily, Chicago residents have a trusted resource they can turn to in order to help them find a job, or even a new career path: JVS Chicago.
Initially founded as the Employment Bureau of the United Hebrew Relief Association in 1884, Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Chicago remains one of the region’s foremost non-profit organizations for those looking for work. In 2012 alone, JVS programs enabled nearly 1,200 people to gain new jobs, while more than 3,200 job-seekers received help from a suite of career counseling initiatives. Over 8,000 Chicagoans, ranging from executives interested in making the next step in their careers to young immigrants looking for their first job, receive help from JVS every year.
The JVS story began more than 130 years ago when the United Hebrew Relief Association created a new organization in order to help Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe find employment in their new home. From its founding in 1884 until 1935, the organization went through several name changes as it merged with other programs focused on helping Jews find employment, including the B’nai B’rith Free Employment Bureau, the Jewish Free Employment Bureau, and finally, the Jewish Vocational Service and Employment Center. By 1940, JVS had become the central organization fighting to help Jews find work in Chicago, and it played a key role in helping refugees from Nazi Germany, placing job candidates in positions in the burgeoning military-industrial complex, and, following the war, assisting veterans in returning to civilian life.
In the post-war period, JVS Chicago distinguished itself as one of the nation’s most honored vocational non-profits, receiving a Presidential Citation for its efforts in helping those with disabilities find employment and earning several major grants for further development. A pioneer in such methods as psychosocial rehabilitation, JVS and its work with initiatives such as the Vocational Adjustment Center, the Sampson-Katz Center, and the Jerome J. Nathan Work Evaluation Service have enabled thousands of people to regain a sense of self-worth through employment. As early as 1960, JVS was developing job training programs designed especially to help adults transition to new careers as technological advances made many jobs obsolete. By the 1970s, the organization had instituted a number of cutting-edge training opportunities for those looking to learn new skills.
In the last 20 years, JVS Chicago has continued to expand its services while continuing to serve the individuals the organization was founded to help. The establishment of the Jewish Employment Network, with its emphasis on helping professionals and career-changers regain job-seeking skills, has gone hand-in-hand with continued efforts to reach out to Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union. More recently, the establishment of the Duman Entrepreneurship Center and its Illinois Small Business Development Center has created an incubator for new businesses that have created some 300 new jobs in the region.
JVS Chicago Today
Despite the fact that Chicago’s job market seems to be returning to pre-recession unemployment rates, JVS still has a vital role to play in helping Chicagoans reach their career goals. One of its flagship programs, Employment Services for People with Disabilities, continues to work closely with the Division of Rehabilitation Services of the Illinois Department of Human Services in order to help the differently abled receive comprehensive aid in finding an appropriate job. Meanwhile, services at the Duman Entrepreneurship Center like small business loans and assistance from business advisors are helping entrepreneurs craft sound business plans and create new companies.
The organization’s most recent initiative focuses on a strategic partnership with Jewish Child & Family Services (JCFS), a non-profit that has been working with JVS for nearly two decades. The partnership will continue to place JVS work development coordinators at the JCFS Therapeutic Day School, as well as begin new efforts like integrating JVS into 855-ASK-JCFS, the JCFS toll-free help hotline. By 2016, JVS will provide career advice and other help for those seeking employment through this central hotline, which assists nearly 4,000 callers per year.
How You Can Help
JVS Chicago enjoys support from a variety of public and private entities, including federal and state grants, but these sources of funding are not enough. Supporting the mission of JVS can be as easy as a one-time donation, and modest gifts can create massive change in people’s lives; a mere $100 can fund a student’s computer training course, while $250 will enable an at-risk teenager to receive help through educational initiatives. To learn more about JVS’ work and what you can do to help, visit jvschicago.org.