It was a clear day, late fall in 2002, when my world ended. My last employer, one of the best companies I had ever worked with, got a new manager and things changed. It didn’t matter how many millions in profit my automation had facilitated, really, I “was too expensive”. My wage was priced at the midpoint for Senior Computer Programmers, but the two H-1B Visa people brought in from Mexico and China cost far less than prevailing wage. The gal from Mexico was a crack programmer, but I was instructed to teach the Chinese gentleman how to code.
Then it was over. Sometimes one world must end so that another can begin. I was a Purdue Engineer with a Masters Degree in Business Administration. Today I administer a small but effective all-volunteer public charity. To become qualified to lead an effort to cure unemployment and poverty, first I had to learn what it was like to be unemployed and poor, no matter how hard I tried.
For three months, job searches turned up nothing. I have a fairly decent resume – it is posted on this web site. I can teach at the University level, or create state of the art electronic controls, or design embedded systems, or program. I have streamlined and automated more than one data flow.
Eventually I got an answer in prayer, excuse my snark I wasn’t doing well at that point, something like this:
“Boy” (I was so low that the word felt like a promotion)
“You sure know a lot about computers.”
“A lot of good it’s doing me.”
“Bet there are lots of people who wish they knew what you know.”
“I suppose so. What shall I do, download it into their brains?”
“WorkOne on Creighton street.”
“Don’t you think that is where they go? Why don’t you call them.”
It was a statement, not a question. I gathered some money management materials from Larry Burkett that I had, and did some calculations on the number of unemployed people in Allen County, how long a class would take, and figured I could solve the unemployment problem in about 6 months teaching 3-hour classes. I’m an engineer: let’s just save time and assume I’m correct.
I called WorkOne, expecting to get screened or politely mocked and that would be the end of it. The person who answered listened to my idea, said “Oh that would be Fred” and put me through directly to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development head for NE Indiana. Yep.
Yes, just like that.
I put on my suit (even engineers own one suit) gathered my materials and met with Fred. He said we had a really great meeting, but there was only one problem – it was too short – we had to have a longer meeting. I talked to my Pastor and he volunteered a closet full of old computers that AEP had donated without operating systems that no one knew how to set up. I learned to use Linux so we could use the computers. I arranged a longer meeting with Fred and his crew to see the computer room Pastor gave us, they approved, and Adult Life Training, Inc. had no money but a job to do and a flow of people to help.
I learned to write better curriculum, apply for grants, talk with Federal representatives, teach non-traditional students patiently. Grants came in and sometimes when I doubted we should keep trying a caravan of cars would show up full of coffee supplies, or a volunteer would bring in a whole box of printer paper.
I’ve wanted to hang up my CEO hat and go back to a nice engineering paycheck a bunch of times, but I talked with my wife and my pastor and I accepted their advice to just keep at it. I guess I already knew that in my heart anyway. It wasn’t easy. Families who minister live sacrificially. We did some really unheard of good things, met lots of people like us who are living to make the community a better place for everyone, helped I don’t know how many hundreds of desperate people learn how to have a better life. Looking back, I see it was the right thing to do, a lot of people benefited.
We have had a few firsts since that beginning 17 years ago. We were the first non-government agency to have the KeyTrain (Work Keys, now called WIN System) hard job skills training program. We developed an effective basic computer job skills curriculum that worked with non-traditional students. We developed an effective method using role play to nudge people to change their thinking from a poverty to a working class mindset. We added more things as we identified gaps in the life skills of our patrons. I learned at a grueling personal level more than I ever wanted to know about poverty and social services agencies.
And it has been amazing. We work now with several large Allen County agencies, and have added financial literacy and time management and goal setting to our training. We are told that our success rate is 33-50% gaining sustained un-subsidized employment (which is considered good). We have helped I don’t know how many families escape the death spiral of credit cards, student loans, and debt. We are one of the extremely few agencies that are totally not for profit as we are an all volunteer organization. We have a fantastic computer lab with large screens and state of the art workstations. We are eons beyond where we started with some obsolete PCs with no operating systems sitting on borrowed folding tables and hung together by extension cords!
Our board has been planning our next 17 years, and although I do not have carefully detailed spreadsheets of exactly how we will save the world in the next six months, we are seeing a magnificent extinction of unemployment so more people are earning real money. That shows us that we need to increase our Financial Peace classes: due to massively successful banking industry marketing glamorizing debt, 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck: no matter how much they earn most of it goes to lenders: a $250,000 a year family is no better off than a $24,000 a year family. Sad. We can fix that. Give me another six months. And our board also has a desire to brighten our youth’s future with fun and educational STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) activities, although we are less than sure exactly how we will do that.
We always can use volunteers, especially in the STEM, computer class, marketing, and Passion Planner areas. We need to make professional level videos of our Linux and Windows curriculum which means scripts and some Fx. We are recruiting more Coordinators for Financial Peace University. We will share more when we know more.
I would like to thank my wife Jolene and our now grown kids for their support, our Pastor David E Keller and Abundant Life Church for their support and gift of occupancy, many individuals (who prefer not to be mentioned by name) for their volunteering and financial support, and the Verizon Foundation, The 3Rivers Federal Credit Union Foundation, Passion Planner, Aetna Insurance Group, and other corporate donors who have helped in diverse ways. And above all Jesus Christ who through His Grace guided us from a total ship wreck to a training environment most charities can only dream of.
God’s Peace be with you. Remember the poor among you that YOU can help yourself. (Just do it) And if you are called to serve the community where you live, serve unselfishly with everything that you are: God will help if you are called. When I was really down and feeling hopeless, he told me once, “I paid for it all. Just keep trying.”
None of us has all the answers, but together we can do more than any of us can do alone.
Happy New Year, and May God Bless!
John D. Nash, Jr. CEO / President
Adult Life Training, Inc.