For more than 15 years, Marie Picard had built a career advising the unemployed on how to find work.
So it came as a surprise when she, herself, was laid off in September last year with few job prospects. Now, after more than year of financial struggles and coping with the death of her father, Picard has finally landed a position as a WorkSource specialist with the state Employment Security Department.
As Americans indulge in food and shopping this weekend, memories of less fortunate times are still fresh for Picard, as well as for Longview veteran Ken Maney and Kelso 21-year old Carson Calhoun.
“It’s been a real journey. The darkest one I have ever been on,” Picard said this week, shedding tears. “Because of everything that I’ve been through I know I can help somebody else because I have that empathy … I’m actually grateful to have had this (experience) because I didn’t have this ... before.”
Picard, 61, worked as a vocational specialist at the Cowlitz Indian Tribe for several years, when she resigned to take a position at Community House in May 2015. But she was laid off just five months later because of budget cuts.
“I was devastated when I was laid off. I really had very little warning. I never claimed unemployment insurance benefits before, so didn’t know what to expect,” recalled Picard, a Longview resident.
She took the extra time to take care of her father, who had recently lost his leg due to diabetes. Because she was living by herself, though, she knew she couldn’t be without work for long.
After three months, she took a job as a secretary at Job Corps in Astoria, where she had worked several years earlier. Though she was overqualified for that job, she hoped to eventually work up in the organization. But commuting back and forth to Longview every day left her with almost no energy to care for her father, she said. Her stepmother also worked, and they could only hire caregivers for part of the time. As her father’s health worsened, Picard resigned from the job in early June to care for her father. He died two weeks later.
“Dad was biggest piece in my life. … He was my mentor , my coach, my spiritual leader, my cheerleader. He was just my everything,” she said, tearing up again.
Three months after his death, her unemployment insurance ran out. She fell behind in bills and her electricity was shut off twice, she said.
Without a bachelor’s degree, Picard kept getting turned down for jobs that she believes she could have gotten with just her associate’s degree 15 years ago. Eventually she landed a paid internship through WorkSource at Goodwill Industries assisting computer skills teacher Bill Carnahan.
Carnahan related to Picard through his own experience with long-term unemployment 10 years ago.
“When you’re getting hit on all side with different negative situations, it can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. It can really knock you down,” he said. “But the thing I’ve seen in her, is she doesn’t let that keep her down. She gets back up and continues.”
The day before Thanksgiving this week, the fireplace blazed and the scent of pecans wafted through the air in Picard’s apartment as she recounted how different her holidays were last year. Last Christmas, Picard made jewelry and knitted gifts for the family; she wasn’t able to purchase gifts. This year she’s looking forward to buying a few presents for her grandchildren after she starts her new job Dec. 1.
“I just have that inner peace now, that confidence that I’m going to go out at the end of this year with a job and I’ll be able to provide the Christmas that I wasn’t able to provide last year. My heart will be in it,” she said. “It’s going to be hard without my dad because there’s going to be that piece, but at the same time I have so much more to be grateful now.”
A better Christmas
Ken Maney was outside his car at work one when his legs suddenly collapsed beneath him. He fell and bounced off a car to the ground. A stroke temporarily left his legs immobile and slowed his thinking. Alone in a relatively secluded place, it took him 30 minutes to open his cell phone, dial his wife, and through slurred speech, explain the situation.
Remarkably, Maney mostly recovered from the stroke after a week at the Portland V.A. hospital. But the stroke crippled his memory. He had forgotten how to do his job designing concrete layouts in Woodland. Sometimes he would drive around his neighborhood in circles searching for his home of seven years. By late April 2015, he was laid off because of his memory problems, just a few weeks after his stroke.
“It sucked. But I completely understood. I was literally drawing a blank,” said Maney, 47.
The Navy veteran suddenly found himself supporting his wife, who doesn’t work, and two adult children on unemployment benefits. When those ran after six months, they subsisting off food stamps and his daughter’s social security disability benefits .
Maney continued volunteering in the community, took online job training courses with Goodwill and receiving resume advising, but he ad no luck hunting for work.
They fell behind on rent and other bills, but through the “good graces” of their landlord they were not evicted, he said. “For the first time in my life I had to ask for help,” he said, recalling how the Veterans of Foreign Wars paid his utility bill a few times.
“It drove him crazy. He hates not being able to able to provide for his family,” said Danielle Maney, Ken’s wife. Danielle as been a homemaker for more than 15 years, and is currently looking for work herself, too.
So it’s not surprising that the holidays were humble for the Maneys in 2015. The decorations went up as usual, but the stockings were empty. There was just four gifts under the tree: a pair of bedroom slippers for Danielle; a deck of Magic The Gathering cards for their son; a DVD for their daughter; and a deck of cards for Ken. Fortunately, his adult children understood the financial situation, but he was still upset.
“Christmas morning ended in about 15 minutes,” Maney said, laughing. “It was heart wrenching to me to know that I couldn’t provide in my mind what I would call a good Christmas for my kids.”
Two months late, on his 47th birthday in February, Maney finally got not one, but two job offers. He accepted a long-term contract position as a design drafter for an aviation firm in Clackamas, Ore.
The long commute is taxing, but he know makes $27 an hour, more money than he did before his stroke.
“The stress level has dropped to the point of almost being relieved,” he said. The family still is getting caught up on rent and other bills, but “we’re no longer getting shut-off notices” for water, Internet or electricity, he said.
This holiday season Maney is looking forward to buying presents for his family and to having his son home for the holidays from Navy auxiliary training in South Carolina. Maney also hopes one day to give back to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other organizations that helped him.
A love of work
While Carson Calhoun is grateful for his middle class upbringing, he hasn’t always been that way.
Growing up in Longview, Calhoun, 21, said he took his parents’ comfortable financial status for granted. In high school, he spent more time perfecting skateboarding tricks and playing music in a band than he did on academics. His mother admonished him for his “lack of work ethic.”
“She was wrong, but at the same time she was right,” Calhoun said. He worked hard at his hobbies but not at his schoolwork.
Now this holiday season, Calhoun has a new sense of gratitude and sense of work ethic that he said he didn’t have a year ago.
Because he was so behind in school, in senior year, he had cram online courses into his schedule in order to graduate on time from R.A. Long in June 2014.
“I had no idea what I was going to do after high school. I was clueless,” Calhoun recalled.
With no work experience and no college prospects, Calhoun was directionless. He lived with his dad, worked a little bit in construction but then essentially hung out for a year without a job. He battled depression, anxiety and a lack of motivation.
“I saw my friends getting good jobs, going to college and I was wondering, why wasn’t I doing that?” he said.
Eventually he realized he needed to find work full time, he said, so he turned to temporary positions first at Express Employment Professionals and then at American Workforce Group, both job placement agencies.
Not knowing what he wanted to do in his career, Calhoun asked for short-term positions in range of fields. In the last six months, he worked in light construction, production, general labor and lumber mills, among other roles.
Before starting at American Workforce Group, Calhoun said, “I would get way more depressed about not having work. Since I’ve been with them, it’s increased my confidence. It pretty much made me realize what I was capable of.”
Once he felt “lazy” and like he was “mooching”, he said. But now he’s hoping to find a permanent position and move out of his dad’s place next year. This holiday season Calhoun says he is looking forward to spending a little money on buying gifts for friends and family and “being less selfish.”
“I honestly hated (the idea of) work. Now I’m started to like work. It’s just something you do every day,” he said.
Morgan Snead, executive assistant at American Workforce Group, added, “We definitely feel like he has come out of shell … He has just really excelled. He’s become one of our more dedicated workers.”