From dream to reality: Sumter community leaders help people overcome barriers to find jobs

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 2/2/18

What started out nearly two years ago with two community leaders taking a drive through South Sumter and seeing young people on street corners instead of in school or at work turned into a celebration Wednesday of which all Sumterites can be …

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From dream to reality: Sumter community leaders help people overcome barriers to find jobs

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What started out nearly two years ago with two community leaders taking a drive through South Sumter and seeing young people on street corners instead of in school or at work turned into a celebration Wednesday of which all Sumterites can be proud.

Attorney and Sumter City Councilman Calvin Hastie took that drive that day through his district with Greg Thompson, owner of Thompson Construction Group and chairman of the Sumter Development Board.

Hastie said he explained to Thompson that many young people today just don't know how to get started looking for a job or may have made mistakes in their past that prevent them from getting employed.

After the drive, Thompson asked Hastie how he could help.

Both had previous experience with a government-funded, out-of-school, youth program called YouthBuild where young adults took classes each day toward earning their GED and worked in a skilled trade. Government funding for that program had stopped, though, Hastie said, and many of the program's youth left the area and haven't returned.

He and Thompson decided to start a new support group to help steer young adults and others who were out of work.

The group, called the "Dream Team," began meeting in April 2016.

Thompson provided resources, including his company's human resource manager, Teresa Norman. A few more local human resource professionals and motivational leaders also voluntarily joined the team that meets twice a month downtown at Hastie's law firm with people looking to better themselves by finding employment.

Fast forward almost two years to Wednesday, and Dream Team partners introduced several of their "success stories" to other community leaders and human resource professionals at Thompson's company headquarters, 100 N. Main St.

To date, 12 "Dreamers" - as the team calls them - have found and maintained employment.

Many are employed with Thompson onsite at Caterpillar Hydraulics and Precision Pin manufacturing plants in town. Thompson is a contractor at Caterpillar.

Garfield Williams, now four months into a maintenance technician position at Caterpillar Hydraulics, said the Dream Team taught him to be proactive and go directly to local industries to complete job applications.

A native of Kingston, Jamaica, where he was an electrician for more than a decade, Williams has lived in Sumter since late 2016. He has a work permit, but Williams decided to maintain his Jamaican citizenship because he has a desire to potentially one day move back to his homeland. Without being a U.S. citizen, he said, he was having no luck last year with job hunting online and over the phone.

"The Dream Team is knowledgeable about proper job placement and matching individuals to jobs that meet their skills and abilities," Williams said. "I am extremely grateful to be working in an environment suited to my experience and qualifications. I credit the Dream Team for making my dream become a reality."

Dream Team partners said they inform dreamers at their regular meetings - the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month - about various free resources available to them locally for job hunting, such as SC Works, 31 E. Calhoun St., for resume writing.

The team also exists to personally motivate and inspire people to keep moving forward, despite adversities. Given Hastie is an attorney, the team also can help with expungements.

Kelvin Peterson, a Dreamer employed almost a year now at Caterpillar's Pin plant, credits the Dream Team for their motivation.

"My life has turned around and changed," Peterson said.

Fellow Dreamer Carolyn Alston was working in Columbia as an administrative assistant but desperately wanted to find a job locally for family reasons. She found out about the Dream Team and now has a job in Sumter.

"I'm grateful for the Dream Team," Alston said. "I believe this program is going to take flight because there are a lot of people I know out there looking for jobs and just don't have the connection. The Dream Team is going to supply that for a lot of people."

Thompson closed the event with a surprise charge to the dreamers.

"We are now anointing you ambassadors of the Dream Team," Thompson said. "As ambassadors, you are now charged to go out and find more Dreamers. Help them make their dreams come true."