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$2 million expansion at job training center for homeless caters to DTLA demand

By Hayley Fox
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012, at 10:48AM

Fields got to ring the job bell alongside her job specialist.

Lanita Fields is a 33-year-old ex-felon and Chrysalis client. She was released from prison in June and has been living in various housing units on Skid Row for the past few months. This summer she enrolled at Main Street's Chrysalis center where volunteers and staff members help homeless and low-income individuals find and keep a job.

After diligently taking job skills and computer classes, going through mock interviews and working on her resume, Fields landed a job in the kitchen at a soon-to-be-open Olive Garden.

"I'm blessed and I'm thankful and I'm happy," Fields said.

She got a job in less than 90 days, a turnaround not necessarily typical for Chrysalis clients. Amy Fierstein, the communications and marketing manager for Chrysalis, said the speed of job placement relies heavily on the clients background and how hard they work at finding a job.

"I was really determined about getting my life together," said Fields. "Flying straight and getting out of the Skid Row area."

In addition to determination, Fields qualifications helped her job hunt; she's a certified chef with a background in cooking and received an AA from a culinary arts school in 2008. Her job at the Olive Garden in Culver City will include making the restaurant's sauces and preparing the pastas. She will be commuting from Downtown to the Westside, but said Chrysalis provides her with bus tokens and work uniforms for the first few weeks until she receives her first paycheck.

Fields is one of the hundreds of clients Chrysalis sees everyday, and since the economic downturn in 2008 the facility has seen an 80 percent jump in demand, according to a statement from the organization. The sheer number of clients necessitated the $2.1 million expansion, said Fierstein. The construction process began even before all of the funding was secured.

"We were just at capacity so we couldn't wait," she said.

The renovated Main Street center went from 7,100 square feet to 11,500 square feet and includes two new classrooms, additional phone stations and more offices. Because of the expansion, Chrysalis was able to make the rows of computers in their lobby into a dedicated computer lab -- meaning any client can come in at any time and use the computers to check email, search for jobs or work on their resume.

There is a closet packed with suits, dresses, shoes, accessories and hygiene products, which is open to any client once they have secured a job interview. They area able to keep the clothes after they select them.

The redesign also included putting in large, street-facing windows with no bars -- helping to create a brighter, airier atmosphere inside, said Fierstein. She added that the renovations help create an overall more professional environment.

"They make our clients feel important," she said. "They feel like they have a job to do when they come in. They know they need to get on those computers and start job-searching."

There is a tradition at Chrysalis that once someone finds a job, they get to ring a special bell, which sits on display on the back wall of the lobby. Employees, volunteers and other clients inside the center stop what they're doing to come out and congratulate the newly employed person.

Last week, it was a beaming Fields who received an onslaught of hugs and handshakes as she announced her new job, and she shared a bit of advice about not giving up.

Fields said that as much as she loves to cook, it's not the only profession she wants to pursue. In addition to going back to school, which she said Chrysalis has offered to pay for, Fields wants to pursue a career as a mortician.

"Ive always wanted to be a mortician," she said. "My life growing up and seeing a lot of people get shot and killed and experiencing a lot of pain and death, I've kind of become immune to it."

Fields said she would also like the quiet atmosphere -- and the high salary. She said her first paycheck from the Olive Garden is going towards paying some bills and eventually, moving into her own place.


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