For years, Wayne Eldridge couldn’t get a job. Shop Rite, Sam’s Club, Dollar General, Goodwill … the list of places where he applied – and got rejected – goes on and on.
“Most wouldn’t tell me why. Sometimes they would be honest – they’d say it was because of my background check,” Wayne said, referring to criminal charges he faced three years ago after he fought with his mother while he was intoxicated.
After that incident, Wayne knew he needed to end his years-long struggle with alcoholism. So he reached out to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton and began recovery in Partial Care, an intensive outpatient program that also connects clients with mental health counseling and employment and housing services. That’s where he met Ann Marie Harrison, a job coach in Catholic Charities’ Supported Employment program.
Supported Employment helps people who have a mental illness assess their aptitudes and abilities, set realistic goals and make informed choices regarding employment. Once a person gets a job, employment specialists like Harrison then act as a mentor and trainer, giving the employee on-the-job support to ensure their long-term career success.
Besides his criminal record, Wayne had other hurdles in his job hunt. He never finished high school or attended college. He spent a few years in a mental health institution and also struggled with homelessness. And he’s now 60, an age where age discrimination factors into the likelihood of hiring success.
When the pandemic hit last spring, it seemed he might never land a job.
“Things shut down, and people weren’t hiring,” Harrison said. “Part of my job is to go out and develop relationships with employers – but you couldn’t meet anyone in-person.”
Finally, in August, Wayne got some good news: Trinity Cleaning, a social enterprise program of Catholic Charities, wanted him. Now Wayne works as a custodian at Delaware House in Westampton, where many of Catholic Charities’ Burlington County behavioral health programs are based.
As part of his ongoing recovery, Wayne visits Delaware House once a week to attend a mental health support group. Since August, he’s been a steadier presence there, as he cleans floors, tidies offices, keeps the windows sparkling and more. As long as it took Wayne to land work, Harrison never doubted he would be successful.
“Both of us refused to give up. And Wayne has always had a positive attitude – maybe there might have been an hour or two where he said: ‘I’m never going to get a job.’ But it never lasted,” Harrison said.
Working, Wayne said, gives him a purpose and a positivity that brightens his days.
“This place gave me a chance,” Wayne said of Catholic Charities. “When you’re out of work, it’s like you stagnate. Working makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I accomplished something at the end of the day and I’m useful. I feel great about how far I’ve come. I got my own place now, and I got a job. Once I can get to it, I’m going to night school.”