Flowers and an Unsigned Card

Angelica Generoso

Shortly after the start of 2013, a bouquet of flowers in a lovely vase arrived at the offices of JVS Los Angeles (JVSLA) addressed to Angelica Generoso. The arrangement came with a card that was not signed and, no, this was not an early Valentine's Day salvo from a secret admirer. As beautiful as those blooms were, the message on the card was far more telling:

"Thank you for believing in me even though sometimes I didn't. I will make you my lucky charm for the new year!"

Since August of 2012, Generoso has been the program manager for JVSLA's HealthWorks, one of the agency's signature training programs that prepares low income adults to work as certified nurse assistants (CNAs), the first step on the health care career ladder. Eligible students enroll in the free, six-week training program which gives them intensive classroom and clinical training and prepares them to take the California license exam.

The flower-sender, it was quickly determined, was a recent HealthWorks graduate named Derrick, who, after completing his training, had found employment in a rehabilitation center with Generoso's help.

It took about six weeks following his completion of HealthWorks for Derrick to get that job. That may not seem like a long time in this economy, but it was an eternity for Derrick. The man was an extremely hard worker, a go-getter. After being unemployed for 18 months he'd gone on General Relief, but he considered his welfare check a temporary measure. He was the only one who showed up for his eligibility interview in a suit and always arrived early to class despite a long and difficult commute. Derrick hopes one day to become a registered nurse (RN). During the six weeks he was still job hunting, he worked in a scrap yard to make ends meet.

"He is the type of person who was not going to sit around and not earn money," said Generoso. "For his first two weeks on his new job, he clocked in at like 95 or 100 hours. He's very determined."

Derrick was correct in his assessment of Generoso's faith in his abilities. She and her team followed up on leads and got lucky in pitching Derrick right when a new rehab facility had a need. Generoso considers herself "the cheerleader" for Derrick and for all her HealthWorks students, helping them navigate through the program and then encouraging them to keep submitting their resumes and never lose hope.

But this wasn't all luck and timing. It was Derrick who did all the hard work: showing up for the class sessions, putting in the effort to pass the course, earning his CNA certification and then applying for and thriving in his new job. Nobody at JVSLA earned the job for him. We just helped push the door open.

JVSLA's tagline -- "Building better lives. One job at a time" -- is plenty eloquent, but the agency can't accomplish its mission unless our clients roll up their sleeves and help with the construction! Through our training programs, career services, educational assistance, WorkSource Centers and support networks, we take great pride in giving people the skills and resources they need to help themselves. In 2012, JVSLA assisted 30,000 Angelenos.

Thank you gestures like the one made by Derrick are deeply appreciated, but we don't expect them. When they come to JVSLA, many of our clients are facing dire personal and social circumstances. Some are homeless or come from broken families, have disabilities or have exhausted all their resources. Even when you think you have hit a personal bottom, it can be extremely difficult to ask for or accept help. More than assistance, our clients want new and improved circumstances. And once we have helped them reach that goal, many of them quietly move on with their new lives. Others write us emails or stay in touch, calling their caseworkers to report on their progress.

Still others remember what it took to overcome hardship and, once their circumstances have improved, donate time, money or expertise to JVSLA so that we can help other clients, "paying it forward," if you will.

Others send flowers and unsigned cards.

"I was really touched, said Generoso, "but I really do try to be there for my students, for all of them."

As do we all at JVSLA. Every day. One person. One job at a time.