“We know in the professional world that making those personal connections is so important for getting ahead, finding employment,” stated MHA, Rockland County Clinical Supervisor and Local Business Advisory Council (LBAC) Coordinator Brandon Beachamp, LMHC (during my recent visit).  In fact, according to Capital Region Career Counselor guru Dr. Tom Denham, networking remains the most effective job search technique. 

“Yet,” Beachamp continued, “in most publicly-funded employment services/vocational rehabilitation programs, you don’t see networking skill-building as an integral part of the curriculum!”  The idea of networking is daunting for many job seekers…even those with significant amounts of work experience and confidence in their fields …INCLUDING VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION PROFESSIONALS!

And so I was intrigued to hear about the March LBAC event planned by our newest Local Business Advisory Council at the MHA of Rockland County.  These events are grant-funded,  thanks to the N.Y.S. Office of Mental Health  They are used by MHA affiliates to enhance their vocational services;  the goal is to build relationships with potential employers and ultimately, promote stronger internship, volunteer and employment outcomes for the folks that they serve.

When I sat down and talked with Brandon, Joeli (a woman who attended the LBAC event) and Adult Care Management/Vocational Services Supervisor Lana Rumore, I was struck by Lana’s vision for this event.  “I saw this as an opportunity for our folks to build relationships and network with business owners.  I asked board members to share honestly and personally about their educational journeys…not just the vocational facts (their major, the classes they took, etc.), but also the hurdles that they encountered along the way.”

“Our ultimate goal was to encourage our consumers to pursue their dreams, which might include furthering their education,” Lana elaborated.  “We usually see successful people (from a distance) and think we’ll never get there,” shared Joeli.  “I truly felt empowered by hearing their stories!”

Joeli, who participates in the MHA’s educational support group, PROS classes and recovery self-help groups, just completed her first semester at college.  “I am very thankful for the support that I receive from the MHA,” shared Joeli.  “It has not been easy…and I had to be determined!  I had to take a 1 ½ hour bus ride to and from Rockland County Community College…and I had not been in school for years!”

“We don’t often hear that that there are many different paths to our goals… and that they’re rarely ‘as the crow flies,’” Brandon elaborated.  Lana talked about changing her major three times before settling on psychology…and stuck with her true passion in spite of her parent’s worries about her choice.

One board member discussed her journey from full-time professional to full-time Mom…Her children, who faced multiple challenges, motivated her decision to change her focus.  For Joeli, it was an eye-opening experience.  “The best thing for me was realizing that I don’t have to feel ashamed or alienated by my mental illness,” Joeli shared.  “I learned that everyone is impacted in some way by mental illness…whether themselves, a family member or friend.”

The sharing was not one-sided!  There was a lot of “give and take” and connections made.  One board member and consumer realized that their children both struggled with the same medical condition.  Another board member offered her husband’s contact information to a job seeker, who shared his passion for music.  “Perhaps my husband, a DJ, can offer you some suggestions!”  “In fact,” Brandon explained, “we saw a lot of exchanging of business cards.”

“The board member who runs the paralegal program at RCC (Rockland County Community College) and owns a law firm gave me her business card,” Joeli shared.  “But to be honest, I get shy at the thought of initiating a conversation with someone I don’t know very well.  After all, what would I say?!”

If seasoned professionals find networking intimidating, imagine what it feels like for job seekers, who have not been in the job market for many years or ever!  In addition to the fears, there is a lack of helpful information on networking “how-to’s”, informational interviewing… and confidence that it can in fact be an effective job-seeking strategy.

Joeli elaborated on her reasons for not following-up.  “I want to explore all my options before I commit myself to something.  I don’t want to open that door and then close it.”  “But if you think of this outreach as purely information gathering,” Lana jumped in, “it could be helpful!  You could suggest that you would like to meet at her place of work and find out more about what she does.  That does not commit you to anything beyond that meeting!” 

“The ripple effect of this breakfast event is bigger than we originally envisioned,” Brandon mused, as we were wrapping up.  “Our board members now have faces behind the work that they support.”  Lana added, “And building relationships with other potential employers expands the range of opportunities for the folks, who are looking to get into/back into the workplace.  There is greater opportunity for job seekers to find employment that matches their interests and goals.  And you never know who or when you will be talking to someone who is looking for someone with your skills/experience or knows someone who is!”

– Marsha Lazarus, MBA, Director of Workforce Development


This LBAC is part of MHANYS’ Consumer & Business Outreach Program (CBOP) for MHA affiliates. To learn more visit our Programs & Projects page.

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