How do you find a job for someone who is hard to employ?
Let's just say you don't sugarcoat the process.
A new show called "Get to Work" (debuting tonight at 10:30 p.m. on Sundance Channel) turns the reality TV lens on the chronically unemployed. They are, according to the show's tagline, "unskilled," "unprofessional" and "unapologetic." Add unlikable, which is what makes their stories so compelling and more than occasionally tragic.
The series centers on the work of STRIVE (Support and Training Result In Valuable Employees), a community-based, nonprofit employment program with centers around the country. While "Get to Work" was filmed at STRIVE's San Diego office, Charmane Higgins, head of the Boston STRIVE chapter, runs the same no-nonsense programs that help everyone from single moms with bad attitudes to ex-offenders succeed.
"We don't put up with sugar-honey-ice-tea," she said. "Every day is tough."
Higgins runs seven, 5-week workshops a year, funded mostly by private donations. Earlier this week at the Dorchester center office, participant Camille Lungelow took a break from a job interview class to explain her struggles.
"I didn't have a problem finding a job. It was holding a quality job," said the 31-year-old mother of two. Lungelow's resume includes stints in customer service and as a lunch monitor and work as a manager of a local sports club from which she was fired.
"This has caused me to sharpen those rough edges," said Lungelow, who thinks "Get to Work" will open the country's eye to STRIVE's achievements.
Clinton Tavares said the program has taught him to take seriously everything from his attitude to his wardrobe. "The model is 'Get in the game,' " said the ex-inmate, who served eight years for assault.
Now Tavares, who has three children, hopes STRIVE's tough-love approach will prepare him for a job as a youth advocate.
"It can be intimidating, but you have the comfort of STRIVE to help you stand out in the world," he said.
In a white dress shirt and tie, he noted the signs that read, "Gentlemen, please remove your hat and earrings" and "Ladies, no sleeveless tops or dresses without a suit jacket or sweater."
"This is like the military," Tavares said. "It's 'Stand up. Sit down. State your name.'"
Higgins said the boot camp approach isn't for show. "We have folks who are ex-crack addicts, who've done federal time -- double digits -- who've had traumatic childhoods. These excuses don't hold water," she said.
Higgins said she expects the "Get to Work" themes to have mass appeal. So does Keriene Matthews, who graduated from the program last August.
The 25-year-old single mother of two is now a condo concierge and just completed her first college prep class at Bunker Hill Community College. "STRIVE built me up," Matthews said.
Intern Tessa Janus contributed to this report.
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