Lifeline program connects unemployed Jewish adults with job resources

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

Mike Siegel had been in the construction industry since 1976, selling windows, lumber and other material.  Then in 2008, the economy entered the Great Recession, and the housing market was the hardest hit. 

About five years ago, he lost his job at a home improvement store. He spent the next few years at a variety of part-time jobs; at one point he worked at a banquet facility, Cecil Whitakers Pizza and Little Caesars Pizza. 

“I was still in good spirits,” said Siegel, 63.

He wanted to get back into the construction sales, though, but even today, the housing market has not yet fully recovered. 

Last year, he turned to Jewish Family & Children’s Service, which in 2013 started Lifeline 2.0, a new program to help Jewish adults who are unemployed. The organization pairs clients with a job consultant who helps them learn how to best market themselves. 

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The program is targeted to people with a background in managerial and administrative positions, trying to ensure that they are aware of the skills and strategies needed to find a job today — which may be different from the last time they were looking. While not specifically designed for baby boomers — the program has no age requirements — the majority of clients have been ages 45-plus. So far this year, 17 people have participated in Lifeline; 11 found jobs, according to JFCS. 

The aim is to help people “be able to concisely and clearly articulate what their strengths are, what their goals are, and what their passion are, so that they can have a leg up when they go in and apply for jobs,” said Ken Schwartz, an outreach specialist with JFCS.

The organization started an earlier Lifeline Fund program during the recession to help a similar range of clients. That incarnation took a different approach, providing grants of up to $5,000 to people who had lost their jobs or businesses because of the downturn in the economy.

“We realized there were some people that still were having difficulty finding employment after the financial crisis,” said Lori Goldberg, who also has helped run the JFCS job assistance programs. 

The biggest difference between the two programs is “one was more direct financial assistance, putting Band-Aids on as a result of the financial crisis,” said Goldberg. The other is to “help people who are still struggling. Now it’s a program in which people learn how to newtwork,” and develop “job-seeking skills.”

This time around, the Jewish Federation provided an initial grant of $68,000 and in the last two years, has allocated about $37,000. 

While the economy was recovering, Siegel took a yearlong break from part-time positions and job hunting, and moved in with his parents, who were in their 80s and having health problems. 

“For me it was kind of pleasant,” said Siegel, who lives in Maryland Heights and has two daughters. “I hadn’t been able to spend much time with them, and now all of a sudden I was living with them six days a week.”

But after they sold their condo and moved into an assisted-living facility, he was again looking for work. He eventually connected with Lifeline 2.0 career coach Alan Ludmer once a week, for about six weeks. Siegel said Ludmer helped with networking and in the negotiation process once Siegel received an offer.

In January, he started working for a construction company that does residential and light commercial work.