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Washington's Mobile Career Center Offers Assistance to Job Seekers

Looking for a job in Washington, DC just got a little easier.

Unemployed Americans have a number of options for finding a new job. They might pick up a newspaper to browse the help wanted ads. If they have an Internet connection, they might go online to search for other opportunities. Or they could visit their local department of employment services. Here in the nation's capital, there are several so-called One-Stop Career Centers, offering anyone looking for work counseling and placement assistance. And now, the job search office can come to them. City officials just inaugurated the One-Stop Mobile Career Center. The brightly colored camping vehicle has been completely renovated. The mobile home's beds and shower have been removed, and the vehicle is now equipped with 12 computer workstations, a television, an Internet connection and helpful people like Geraldine Hamilton.

"What we offer is basic job search," she said. "It's not like we have 1,000 men sitting downtown in an office waiting for us to send people for jobs. What we do is equip people with the credentials they need to be profitable in the workforce. I'm going to make it so that your resume stands out more than his does. I give the tools necessary to complete the process. You still have to go through the process."

Ms. Hamilton and her colleagues can offer advice on everything from how to write a resume and cover letter, to how to dress for a job interview. The mobile career center will also host literacy and job training classes. It will travel around the city to job sites where workers are to be laid off, homeless shelters, schools and churches. It is intended to reach out to people who might not turn to the government for help finding a new job.

At September 29 inauguration ceremony for the Mobile Career Center, Washington Mayor Anthony Williams spoke about those he believes will benefit most from the outreach project.

"They are residents that are unlikely to come into a government office," said Mr. Williams. "All the literature and all of our knowledge tells you that. Whether it's due to an accessibility problem or general mistrust of the government.

"We all know that when you are in a bad situation, there's distrust of government," he continued. "There's actually a lack of self-esteem. There's all those things working that don't make it easy for us to get services to people who need them."

To tackle the accessibility issue, the Mobile Career Center is equipped to handle wheelchairs, and can be driven to meet people who might not be able to travel far from home. To overcome distrust of the government, the project has called on a higher authority.

"Oh God we thank you for the commitment of resources. Thank you for the resources and thank you for the job opportunities. Thank you for even the ability to do literacy on this van," prayed Reverend Anthony Motley at the ceremony.

While no money will be going directly to religious groups, the Mobile Career Center has invited community and religious organizations to participate. Congregation members can mentor job seekers and volunteer at the local government's career centers throughout the city. Unlike traditional government-funded assistance programs that are strictly secular, this project is part of the Bush Administration's Faith-Based Initiative, which not only permits faith-based groups to be involved in community service, it actively encourages them. But Margaret V. Wright, who directs the city's Office of Faith and Community-Based Partnerships, says their involvement won't interfere with the Career Center's mission: helping people find jobs.

"Our goal is not to allow the customers to bring their spiritual needs here," she explained. "That's why they have their faith based organizations to satisfy that. When they get to us, they're simply ready to talk about job training, job skills or I want a job."

If this partnership is a success, DC's Mobile Career Center could represent a change in the ways spiritual organizations and the government provide services around the country and could lead to more collaborations in the future.