The Emergency Housing Coalition (EHC) is a leading provider of shelter, housing opportunities, and supportive services to people in crisis and those experiencing homelessness in the Silicon Valley. For many years, San Francisco Bay area Sathya Sai Centers had cooked and served food at EHC Life Builder’s Boccardo Reception Center. In 2010, Sai young adults (YAs) in the area decided to go beyond the usual service of providing food and clothing. We decided to try and transform the lives of those we were serving in a meaningful way – by tackling the issue of joblessness among the EHC residents.

Most of the EHC residents had been jobless either due to the economy or a criminal record of felony conviction. One EHC staff member said another important obstacle to finding work was not being able to use computers and apply for jobs online. We looked into the issue and found that online job applications had become the accepted norm even for non-technical jobs. For instance, even fast food restaurant McDonald’s required an online application. Many of us were tech-savvy, so we began developing an employment assistance program that started as computer literacy classes and evolved to include interview skills workshops as well as individualized resume and job search assistance.

To ensure an auspicious start to the project, we wrote a letter to our beloved Sai Baba in December 2010 seeking His Blessings. It brought us such joy to learn that Baba had indeed accepted and blessed our letter. It was reassuring to know He would guide us throughout this journey, and help us overcome challenges we were bound to meet. As Sai Baba said, “When you take one step towards me, I will take a hundred steps towards you.”

Initial Challenges

This incredible journey thus began in April 2011! We started with a goal of helping at least one person secure a job by November 23, 2011 (Sai Baba’s birthday), and then one person to be newly employed each month thereafter. At first, the weekly sessions were done on a walk-in basis, working with whoever came in. The clients needed someone there regularly to overcome their struggles with computers. At that time, there was no employment specialist on staff at the Boccardo Reception Center (BRC), so the YAs searched for jobs for each person online after they returned home. By June, it became clear a more structured program was needed.

Computer literacy classes

We conducted a four-week basic computer literacy course where attendees learned computer basics, from how to use a mouse and keyboard to browsing the Internet and emailing resumes. The primary focus was on how to conduct a job search: helping people compose their resumes, becoming acquainted with applying online and uploading files. The clients had all held jobs for many years and felt that if they were just offered the right job, they could succeed. However,

their insecurity about computer technology (such as pushing the wrong button) was holding them back. We spent most of the time helping them overcome such fears and getting them used to navigate online. Those who completed all sessions received a completion certificate.

“Accelerated” Job Assistance and Networking with Potential Employers

Having equipped the residents with the basics, we decided to intensify the job application process. We researched jobs during our spare time and helped residents apply for them at weekly meetings. We worked in teams to ensure more quality time with each client. We also explored options such as networking with potential employers at job fairs, in retail stores, churches, and other places where they might hire the EHC clients. Our primary goal was to persuade a prospective employer to conduct an interview so they could each get some real life experience in job interviewing, receive constructive feedback, and, with God’s Grace, be hired.

A Gift from Sai for His Birthday

In October 2011, six months after the project’s conception, the first breakthrough came – one of our clients secured a permanent job at a cosmetic warehouse! We were thrilled and re-accelerated our efforts. On the evening of 23 November 2011, we held a special program for the residents, including a meditation session followed by role-plays in which the clients in teams of two enacted an interview session between an employer and job seeker. Everyone actively participated, providing feedback to fellow trainees about their responses to interview questions. All the clients had apprehensions about doing an interview, but this session turned out to be fruitful and meaningful. At the end, we distributed folders containing job application materials and pens and then celebrated with delicious homemade pastries.  We could not have wished for a better way to observe this auspicious day. One client, who often rambled in his speech, especially benefited from feedback during his session, helping him obtain a part-time job just one week later. One month later, he secured a full-time job with a circus company. We were thrilled! With all the excitement and momentum, we set an aggressive goal of securing a job for at least one client each month until April, one year after the project was begun.

Peter Ullman and Interview Workshops

During this time, we received an unexpected gift from an experienced job interview trainer: Peter Ullman ( We read about him in an article and contacted him asking for his help. He agreed and gave us valuable feedback and guidance on the job search process – much needed and timely guidance! Mr. Ullman was truly God-sent. We held workshops throughout the month of December 2011, beginning with one led by him. It was followed by two workshops on interview skills: dressing for interviews, answering frequently-asked interview questions, and dealing with felony-related questions. The workshop material was prepared using resources from Peter Ullman, and a book by Eric Mayo titled From Jail to Job. As a follow up, we recruited friends who were personnel professionals to carry out mock interviews and provide helpful feedback. Clients were asked to dress for an interview. The sessions were recorded on video so they could see their appearance and body language. Watching the videos helped them improve skills such as using appropriate greetings and maintaining eye contact.

Generosity overcomes a major roadblock

In June of 2012, another round of structured classes began. This time, we ran into technical difficulties: several of the aging computers began breaking down. Every week, we had to turn away four or five clients because we didn’t have enough working computers. But we remained firm in our resolve and decided not to let these difficulties hold us back. It was clear that good computers were vital to the program, so we took it upon ourselves to replace the broken systems. We reached out to friends, and many contacted their employers for help. In just a couple months, we were able to provide ten computers for the project.

In the meantime, we continued to hold classes, adding a project we named, “Story Time.” Each week we brought an inspirational story for clients to read and discuss together. The exercise was a great success. Every time we had a discussion, they shared thoughts about their own life experiences. This opened our eyes to understand the challenges these people faced and how it probably took only a couple mistakes for such amazing people to end up in this difficult situation. Once the new computers were installed, a new course began. Classes remained interactive, with plenty of time for questions and dialogue. We also provided one-on-one personal coaching during class lectures to make sure each client was able to follow the material and perform tasks without getting lost or frustrated. 

Clients and their challenges

This experience taught us many things. It opened our eyes and gave us a new appreciation for these people and the many challenges they faced. It also made us acutely aware of how they lacked many things we took for granted. They could not afford mobile phones, which forced them to use message-only phone numbers. They were limited to using public phones to hear voicemails, which means an employer could not talk to them right away. Those on parole were confined to a 50-mile radius within the county and were required to get approval from their parole officer for certain kinds of jobs. The clients were also required to volunteer 32 hours a week at EHC, which gave them little time for the actual job search.

It was truly humbling and eye opening for us to realize the tremendous odds that were stacked against them, and we often wondered what we would have done in their shoes. It tapped into our deepest feelings of compassion and empathy, as we began to understand life through their eyes.

Over the course of a year, we worked with about twenty people, each with their own unique life experiences. Six of these people were highly committed and were able to regularly attend our sessions and successfully complete the program. Their perseverance in the face of these obstacles left a deep imprint on our hearts.

Our clients’ stories

Here are brief descriptions of some of the clients and how they felt about our employment assistance program.

Client 1 was a 60-year-old man with extensive experience in plumbing but was often rejected by employers. In the beginning of the program, he had no computer skills, but within six months, he was e-mailing his resume and applications in response to jobs posted online and navigating employer websites. One of the lead helpers in the EHC kitchen, he has never given up on job search and is an inspiration to many of us. It is gratifying to hear him express his gratitude to us:  “It’s a really great thing you guys are doing. I’m really fortunate to receive this kind of help. I’ll tell my grandchildren about the work you do and encourage them to do the same when they grow up.

Client 2 had spent sixteen years in prison since he was first out of high school and has had a hard time adjusting to the outside world. A gifted artist brimming with confidence, he shows tremendous energy and enthusiasm. With our recommendation, he started pursuing a fashion design program at a local community college. A college grant helped him get his own housing, and he eventually moved out of EHC. As a parting gift, we gave him one of our spare laptops with Adobe Photoshop installed to help him with his course work.

Client 3 was out of work for the previous four years due to the economy but had extensive experience as a chef. He attended a good number of interviews, but was not yet successful in landing a job. He benefited greatly from the mock interviews, learning how to highlight his relevant experience. Having participated very actively in the workshops, we believe he has a great chance of getting a job.

Client 4 spent twenty years in prison and also has a learning disability. Having learned his lessons in life, he put his prison time to the best possible use by completing vocational certifications in welding and sewing and acquired a food handler certification. He learned from his mistakes and is seeking a second chance in life. At first he couldn’t even double click the mouse but now is able to independently research and apply for jobs online.  He told us It’s a blessing that I got to attend this workshop. I’ve learnt so much about computer skills in just a short period of time. I’ve received personal attention from the volunteers, which has helped me grasp things better. This has definitely equipped me with skills to search and apply for jobs online! His sincerity and determination finally secured him a job at Dollar Tree.

Client 5 was originally from Africa and not fluent in English. He had spent three years in prison. Very enthusiastic to learn, he was punctual for every session and learned to apply online. He especially liked the meditation sessions. Having computer skills will definitely give me an upper hand at landing a job. I also like the meditation as it makes my mind feel different and I feel a lot better. Also, you guys have shown a lot of patience to work with different people. I tend to forget many things after I leave the class, but you patiently teach me the same thing again and again for 20 times until it registers in my mind. His dedication secured him a job at a restaurant!

The Experience

With Divine Grace, we have had an amazing journey. Several residents benefitted from the different workshops. More than that, we young adults were blessed to have a tremendous learning experience interacting with people from such diverse backgrounds. Their incredible progress and dedicated engagement week after week, gave us the motivation and inspiration to continue. Recently, one client said, This was the first time I applied to fifteen jobs in a week all by myself, and I got two interview calls. I now realize that the more jobs I apply for, the more calls I will get. I feel a lot more confident now, and I will make sure to spend most of the time I get on the computer to apply for jobs, It was a happy moment for us all and a fitting testimonial that our efforts were not wasted.

There was a two month period during which, everyone had a tough time finding jobs, which led to a lot of de-motivation among the YAs and the residents. All that we could do is just pray and it worked. Then, three residents secured jobs in four weeks later. This reminded us about Sai Baba’s emphasis on surrender - which means not having any expectations, letting go of the fruits of our actions, and maintaining equanimity even if outcomes turn out differently than what we anticipate. Probably this is our spiritual lesson to practice. Dedicating all our acts in worship to the Lord and accept gladly everything that happens is His handiwork and a sign of His compassion. And with His Divine Grace, it is just a matter of love, faith, and perseverance that before long, we will see more residents finding permanent employment.

~ Young Adults,

Northern California and Nevada.