What do you do when you find yourself at the edge of a cliff facing a great chasm that is separating you from where you need to be on other side? According to Connections to Success, you’ll need hope, resources, and a plan. Everyday thousands of men and women are facing the gap that stands between their low-paying jobs and the jobs that pay a livable wage. Connections to Success is one agency that is working to build bridges, tie ropes, and train climbers to overcome this obstacle.
For almost two decades, Connections to Success has served the St. Louis and Kansas City regions to empower individuals to obtain economic independence through job training, mentoring, educational classes, and providing basic resources needed to succeed in the job market. Founded in 1998, Connections was born through an inspiration of a “Dress for Success” model in New York where low income and unemployed women were given business attire and interview preparation to increase their marketability when seeking employment. Kathy Lambert, founder of Connections, along with her husband Brad, recognized a similar need in the St. Louis community and decided to start her own not-for-profit dedicated to provide resources for men and women who needed support in finding and obtaining sustainable employment.
Marcy Bursac, Director of Resource Development, describes why Connections is unique in its approach to empower its clients, “We have a hope-based mentality, which makes us different. People are trusting us throughout [the empowering] process, and we show them that we believe in them. We show Christ’s love through this, and you should see the light that shines from their faces when they realize we believe in them.” According to Lynda Keeton, Volunteer Coordinator, the primary goal of Connections is to break the cycle of generational poverty that plagues our communities. Connections not only touches the lives of men and women individually, but the agency makes their families a priority as well. “We’ve seen the children of clients we have worked with go on to graduate college,” Ms. Bursac says. It is not uncommon for individuals to encourage their family members to enroll in the 4-week Personal and Professional Development class after they have completed them.
“The agency was built and is based on the role of volunteers,” Ms. Keeton says, “Our Dress for Success Midwest and Kansas City boutiques are almost completely run by volunteers. The 1,700 women we have reached in the past year alone would have been impossible to reach were it not for the work of volunteers.” The tangible results are why many of the volunteers at Connections have been there for years mentoring and training clients. Volunteers directly see the impact they are making when the person they are working with gets a job, nails an interview, or earns his or her GED. Among the many new and seasoned volunteers are those that volunteer to give back to the organization. Many men and women return to Connections after they gain employment to give back. “They say, ‘I was helped during a tough time, now it’s my turn to help someone else during theirs,’” Ms. Keeton says.
Combating generational poverty certainly has its challenges: the sticky web of earning too much money to qualify for benefits but not enough to survive without them and the lack of social support systems, to name only a few. However, despite these challenges, Connections is hopeful for the future. “We want to be global,” says Ms. Bursac, “not to be everywhere, but to train other not-for-profits and organizations everywhere to do this evidence-based model that really does work.” In training other agencies in their empowering model, Connections can focus on their values that have brought them this far: fidelity to the program and belief in each individual they serve.