Post Author
Alison Gowans
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Jan. 22, 2024 – On a rainy October morning, several people visited the Opportunity Center at Ladd Library, looking for assistance building resumes and applying for jobs.

One of them was Todd Brewington, who was trying to navigate the job search world after a 30-year career as a truck driver, a job he can’t do anymore due to hearing loss and other medical concerns. Another job seeker was a young woman, Zawadi Gaheba, who needed help building a resume for the first time and finding jobs to apply for.

Both had heard they could find assistance at the Opportunity Center.

“The good news is, the Opportunity Center is here whenever you want to drop in,” Community Engagement Librarian Meredith Crawford told Brewington.

Across the room, Opportunity Center Program Coordinator Erin Maeder helped Gaheba navigate online job postings. A week later, another young woman who had been there that morning did stop in – to report she had successfully found a job, her first since arriving in the United States.

The Opportunity Center is a collaboration between the Cedar Rapids Public Library, Kirkwood Community College, the United Way of East Central Iowa, HACAP, and the City of Cedar Rapids. Partner agencies come together there to connect patrons to services.

“Our core focus is to help individuals facing barriers to education and employment overcome those barriers and achieve economic stability through sustainable jobs,” Maeder said.

Those barriers could be anything from language barriers to transportation to not having copies of documents required for work.

“When you think about barriers to employment, they can be anything. For some people it is finding childcare. For some it’s that they are facing eviction or having trouble paying their utility bills. Some are experiencing homelessness,” Maeder said. “How can you prioritize finding a job when you don’t have a safe place to sleep? You have to prioritize stability for people when you’re trying to help them find employment.”

Since starting in her role in May, she has been ramping up the schedule of workshops and outreach happening at the center. In addition to one-on-one help for people who walk in, the Opportunity Center hosts workshops in partnership with agencies like Goodwill, IowaWORKS, and DeltaV Code School.

The workshops cover topics like computer skills and work readiness. The computer skills sessions are vital, Maeder said, because even applying for most jobs requires getting online. Topics range from using Microsoft Word and Google Docs to digital information literacy.

“When people think about the library, they think about providing access and information and resources, and that’s what we’re doing,” Maeder said. “Most applications are online. Even to apply for services or resources, you have to be able to get online. And a lot of the time, people do not have access to the technology or have the skills to get online.”

The work readiness skills include soft skills employers say are vital, including problem-solving, dependability, and interpersonal relationships.

“It’s a benefit for job seekers, but also for employers – they can reach out to us to get employees involved in these classes rather than losing an employee,” Maeder said.

Resume help sessions and regular job fairs in partnership with IowaWORKS are another recurring feature. Library staff at the Opportunity Center also help people apply for benefits or connect to other agencies who can help them with needs beyond their career.

“Partnerships really drive the mission and vision of the Opportunity Center,” Crawford said.

Maeder said, at the end of the day, she’s a connector – helping match people to jobs and organizations – but the patrons who come in are the ones doing the work for their own success.

“We’re just helping people figure out the right path to get where they want to go,” she said.