Workforce agencies deliver hope, stability in dire times

When Martha Espinosa heard the news she was crushed.

Orchard Supply, a long standing staple of hardware and home goods in the City of Fresno, was closing seven area stores leaving hundreds of workers in limbo. Espinosa, a Business Services coordinator for the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, didn't wait for a phone call or an invitation to step up and do her part to quell the fears many Orchard employees were grappling with. "I just showed up," Espinosa says. "Rapid response is a proactive program where we reach out to businesses and employees that may be experiencing layoffs or closures. We help where we can and our goal is to connect employees to resources and information that give them a way forward." It wasn't hard for the longtime Fresnan to put herself in their shoes, as years before she too found out her previous employer was closing its doors and she clearly recalls the insecurities and questions.

"It can be devastating, a lot of times you aren't given very much information and you are left wondering what's going on," says Espinosa. "That's why we showed up and knocked on their doors. We can bring some calm during turbulent times." The Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board responded quickly to the closure which was making headlines in Fresno. It started at one store, where the FRWDB pulled up to the storefront in a borrowed and repurposed RV from the Fresno County Library. After some hesitation from the corporate offices at Orchard, the digital bus made its way to each store, taking employees in on their breaks to introduce them to services, programs and workshops for resume writing and interviewing. "Some people had worked there for 20 or 30 years," says Espinosa. "To do our part and be able to help somebody feel in control and provide them with a little home is really rewarding. We are trying to connect them to their next career."

More than just a pamphlet

In the city of Riverbank in Stanislaus County a boutique clothing store called Justice was closing its doors. A single sheet of paper was taped to the door notifying customers of the impending closure.

Elena Blanton, Rapid Response Coordinator for Stanislaus County Workforce Development Board heard about the closure from a co-worker who saw the sign.

"This is how we hear about closures a lot of the time," says Blanton. "It's a mixed bag. No matter how we hear about it, we always find a way to reach those employees that are going to be laid off."

Blanton believes firmly in the importance of looking those affected in the eye and giving them something to look forward to. She has a scripted presentation and materials to deliver to the employees, but above all she says they leave with a face, a name and a phone number for somebody who is there to help.

Whether it's the dozens of employees at the Oakdale K-Mart that closed or Game Stops impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic, Blanton says the single requirement of a Rapid Resource Coordinator is empathy.

"You have to understand that this is devastating news. Sometimes by the time we get there it's already sunk in, other times it's fresh," she says. "They need to know somebody is there to point them in the right direction."