Immigrants And Refugees
Immigrants and Refugees

Immigrant Woman Succeeds with Help of Grace Institute Job Training

Cordelia Francis highlights the Grace Institute. Credit: Catholic Charities New York

Like many New Yorkers in the pandemic, Cordelia Francis was unemployed and took advantage of the time to for some job training on Zoom.

Every day, the Brooklyn resident, in her fifties, would put on her best office clothes as she learned resume creation, office skills and job networking from her apartment via a program sponsored by Grace Institute, an agency of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York which has trained women for work in the city since 1897. The agency was founded by William R. Grace, a former mayor and Irish immigrant businessman, and his brother, Michael. Their goal was to train immigrant women for work.

More than a century later, the Grace Institute continues to train immigrant women, among them Cordelia. Others might have thought of Zoom meetings from home during the pandemic as allowing for a respite from office protocols. Not for Cordelia. No informal sweatpants for Cordelia, an immigrant from Barbados who at school on the island learned the precise diction of what she calls the Queen’s English.

Everything that you do to help others may not be in the forefront where others can see.

She has lived in Brooklyn for 27 years, and came to the United States, she said, to be part of a larger and wider culture and community she couldn’t find in Barbados.

From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for 14 weeks, the classes, called the Administrative Professional training program by the Grace Institute, served as an emotional and job connection during a period of unemployment.

It had been a difficult time for Cordelia, who continued to work part-time as an usher at Barclay’s Center for sports and concerts but needed something with more hours and income. She lives with her 25-year-old son, who works for a non-profit program for troubled youth. Work in social services also appeals to Cordelia, and she has been active at her church, Brooklyn Tabernacle, in social ministry projects.

But much of that work was behind-the-scenes and volunteer, not easily described for prospective employers. That made her uneasy when she needed to get back into the job market. “Everything that you do to help others may not be in the forefront where others can see,” she said.

She experienced frustration sending out scores of resumes with no results. But the training at Grace Institute helped. There was a focus on job-seeking skills, including mock interviews that she said proved invaluable.

The mock interviews tested her responses to typical interview questions, something Cordelia said was needed as the process often sparked anxiety for her. The regular mock interviews, “prepared you to face a person in a superior position,” she said. “It made you feel more comfortable.”

The mock interviews were held each week through the 13 weeks of training, paid for by a grant of $10,000 from Grant Institute (training programs are no-cost to participants).

Soon after graduation in April of this year, Cordelia landed a job at the offices of Homeward NYC, a non-profit agency that works with the homeless, obtained with the help of Grace Institute’s job placement service. Cordelia sees her current position as part of a larger plan, and is now enrolled part-time at Empire State College, a division of the State University of New York that focuses on non-traditional college students. She is seeking a degree in community and human services.

I knew I was headed for college. Grace as a stepping-stone to overcome some of my fear.

“I knew I was headed for college,” she said. “I was using Grace as a stepping-stone to overcome some of my fear.”

Cordelia holds a green card and plans to pursue citizenship next year. She will seek out Catholic Charities for help in that process.