Jonathan Veal, now the Director of Jobs at Restore OKC, was first captivated by the work of the nonprofit organization when he came out for one of its Second Saturday workdays as a volunteer with his church in 2017.
The Second Saturday workdays are a part of Restore OKC’s Restore Homes program, where volunteers repair homes throughout northeast Oklahoma City. It’s one part of Restore OKC, whose mission is to serve the physical, social, emotional, educational and economic needs of northeast Oklahoma City.
A lot of that work comes through helping people with job placement. At the time Veal got involved in 2017, WellSpring Cleaning Company, a commercial and residential cleaning company, was the only employment opportunity offered through Restore OKC, with only five employees, 20 residential clients and three commercial clients at the time.
Veal eventually came on as a consultant in early January 2020, helping the team create an organizational chart and lead a planning session that he said got everyone really excited.
Then the pandemic hit.
“For our team, we were faced with a decision,” Veal said. “There was an opportunity to pull back and stay at home or press forward and see what other opportunities were out there.”
He didn’t want to make the decision. He wanted to empower the team. They chose to drive forward. WellSpring lost most of its residential clients at that time, so it pivoted its focus from primarily residential to commercial cleaning while getting certified in CDC COVID-19 remediation. A couple days after making the announcement, WellSpring received a call from Homeland Grocery, which had an outbreak in its Marietta location. The WellSpring team kept the staff at Homeland calm, and after going through their process, the store was able to reopen. Homeland management was blown away and asked if WellSpring could be its designated COVID-19 remediation team moving forward for locations all over the state, he said.
“From April to July, we added on another 27 team members, which was pretty cool to see take place,” Veal said.
That team has continued to grow.
Restore Jobs is just one program of Restore OKC, which also encompasses Restore Homes, Restore Schools and Restore Farms.
Everything at Restore Jobs comes down to relationships.
“ROI for us is to invest in them on the front end and find out what their hopes and dreams and goals are and then to walk alongside them and launch them to where that end goal is,” Veal said. “We want to see them get to where their goal is.”
Veal described the organization’s role as something like a bridge, removing barriers for the participant and building relationships with employers. As an organization, they prefer the word reconciliation.
“If you look at the root of that word, reconcile, it means that two things are separated and there is a need to bring those things back together,” he said. “As an organization we can directly make that happen by using our resources and tools to get someone from where they are to where they desire to be.”
What started as a cleaning company for single moms has turned into multiple companies within the organization and a job readiness program to prepare participants to launch out into the work world. The full training program launched in September that encompasses six months of training. It starts with a financial literacy program where participants create a care plan to organize their finances.
Sara Hawk, director of job training, said the focus of the program is to create small goals and walk alongside their students to help them get their life in order. “One care plan reach(es) out to all their creditors to see how much they owed,” Hawk said.
The second part of the training is about a three-month jobs training class called Worklife. It helps participants understand what gifts they can bring to an employer and develop skills like resume writing and interviewing. This is where Restore Jobs leans on its industry partners to assist with mock interviews and sponsoring dinners for classes. However, the biggest need is for companies to simply give participants the opportunity for a real interview. Participants are given every tool they need to crush an interview, but the biggest hurdle is getting the interview, Hawk said.
The training program aims to remove barriers for employment, such as a prior record or no high school diploma. It has seen a lot of success with industry partners who know that a candidate has been with the program for three to six months and are willing to offer them a chance to interview.
“How much more is that person gaining confidence when they feel like someone is fighting for them, someone is in their corner cheering them on and coming alongside them in this employment journey?” Veal said.
So far, the program has an 85 percent graduation rate, with 23 students graduating in the first class. The end goal is for students to launch out, whether that be finding work with one of their industry partners, such as MD Building Supply, or continuing their education with partnerships like OSU-Oklahoma City’s Social Innovation program. One of the underlying benefits of the program is building a professional network students can leverage for advice and opportunities.
“I think the thing we most take for granted is our own professional network,” Hawk said.
The future of Restore Jobs lies in the dreams of the students and interns who come through its doors. For Veal, it’s all about engaging the community and empowering their vision, not his. This philosophy is what led to the massive growth through the pandemic. It’s all about listening to the goals and dreams of the students and empowering them to achieve those goals. It could be getting a high school diploma, finding employment or launching OKC’s next great start-up.
“It takes some intentionality to not look at a person from [the perspective of ] a skill set, but for who they are,” Veal said.