DERC celebrates two years of fighting unemployment

By Natasha Duarte
UNC Co-editor
The Durham VOICE

Last year, Anita Cash sat down at one of the used computers in the Durham Economic Resource Center lab, and she took her first step toward a new career.

“I got me what’s called an e-mail address,” says Cash, who graduated from DERC’s work force training and development program this year.

DERC Training Coordinator and Distribution Manager Fred Stoppelkamp and CEO Jackie Brown in the warehouse. Durham Economic Resource Center opened two years ago and is in its sixth cohort of job readiness training. (Staff photo by Natasha Duarte)

It may seem simple, but for recently and chronically unemployed adults, internet access and basic computer skills are crucial to applying for jobs in today’s market, says DERC Training Coordinator Fred Stoppelkamp.

Searching and applying for jobs online is just one of the skills taught by DERC, a non-profit, grant funded center with a training warehouse at 1800 Hunt St.

DERC’s four-to-six-month training program for unemployed adults includes interview and job skills, job search and placement assistance and a simulated warehouse where trainees work to distribute discounted goods.

The training program consists of three modules, Stoppelkamp says. During the first six weeks, trainees take courses at Durham Technical Community College. The second and third stages focus on reinforcing basic skills, warehouse training and job search.

But some trainees find employment as early as the first module, says DERC CEO Jackie Brown, who encourages participants to start their job search right away.

When Cash came to DERC, she had recently lost a retail job and was recovering from a drug addiction. She learned about the program from a classmate at CAARE Inc., a non-profit health care and wellness provider in Durham.

“I was wanting to get back into the work force right away,” she says.

Cash says she was recently promoted from a part-time to a full-time retail position at Wal-Mart, and she credits her promotion to the customer service skills she learned at DERC.

“A lot of the self-esteem I had lost, I gained a lot of that back,” she says.

DERC graduate Cottie Washington (Left) volunteers in the warehouse. Right: Francenia Shuler. (Staff photo by Natasha Duarte)

DERC, which celebrated its second anniversary Thursday, began as an initiative of End Poverty Durham, a grassroots organization led by community and interfaith leaders, Brown says.

“They realized that Durham was the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor,” Brown says. “They decided that the best way to address poverty was to provide jobs for people in need and to make sure that those folks had the proper training.”

DERC’s warehouse distributes low-cost clothing, toiletries and household items to member non-profit organizations, Brown says. The warehouse receives donated items from local and national non-profits like Dignity U Wear and Gifts in Kind International, and the DERC lab computers were donated by Duke University.

The warehouse produces revenue, Brown says, which allows DERC to pay its workers a stipend.

When Karl Schoeck came to DERC, he had been looking for a job for three years.

He didn’t have a driver’s license, which most of his prospective employers required, and he says he struggled with interviews.

“That was terrible for me, because I didn’t know what to say,” Schoeck says.

Now in module 3 of the program, Schoeck says he knows how to dress for interviews and what to say to employers. He has his learner’s permit and is still applying for jobs.

In addition to her full-time job, Cash says she’s completing an EKG training course and hopes to work in a medical facility.

She says her mentors at DERC encouraged her to continue her education.

“It was something I always wanted to pursue, but I never had the courage,” she says.

Cash says she still uses the skills she learned at DERC.

“I know that when I go to that interview, or even if I have a conflict on the job, I know that I can handle it, because I’m trained”