Better Jobs: Matchmaker for employment

Gavin and Nate stand inside CARP industrial building

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Gavin and Nate |


Steven Russell had been to three other job fairs. He’d placed help-wanted ads in print and online. Still, he wasn’t finding the right workers for his light manufacturing plant in Fort Myers. He was looking for someone with commitment, with curiosity, and a drive to learn the job and do it well.

Russell’s company, Creative Architectural Resin Products Inc., or CARP, which he co-owns with Marilyn Santiago, makes resin-based faux architectural elements that look like natural materials, like stone or wood. Quality matters at CARP. The company works with some of the most prestigious builders in Southwest Florida and beyond. The company earned the 2019 Startup of the Year award by the Horizon Council, Horizon Foundation and the Lee Economic Development Office.

Finding quality employees, however, proved to be a difficult endeavor in 2021, like it was for many employers.

Then the couple said yes to a Better Jobs second-chance job fair.

“I believe in second chances,” Russell says. “I myself have been given plenty in life, and I just wanted to give them a chance.”

The decision was last-minute. Russell and Santiago had only learned about the job fair the day before. It was around the holidays. They had no reason to think they’d find what they were looking for.

But this was no ordinary job fair.


Better Jobs job fairs tap the power of the church and the local community and combine that with a winning formula to create an environment where job seekers and hiring managers excel. It’s like Better Together created a match-making event for employment instead of romance.

When a job seeker walks through the door, they’re greeted warmly and offered to connect to a job coach, who can show them around, go over their resume, answer questions, help them prep and connect them to the employers who best fit their skills and needs.

Some of our job fairs offer free haircuts and clothing. They often have other community resources available. And job seekers are welcome to come as they are. No suits required. Don’t have someone to watch your children? Bring them.

The employers at our job fairs come with open minds. They know the value of second-chance hires, people who have a barrier to employment like incarceration, lack of transportation or gaps in their resume. They understand a past mistake does not negate a person’s worth in the workplace today.

CARP discovered this first hand.

At a job fair in late 2021, Russell met Gavin and Nate.

“Most of the candidates that came to our table were good choices and seemed to have experience, or at least the ambition, and wanted to really try,” Russell said. He was particularly impressed with Gavin and Nate. “They really wanted to come to the factory and see what it was about, which I like that in people. They showed ambition right off, right from the beginning.”

He offered them both jobs, and they started the next day.

Both men had barriers to employment. Nate had just completed three years of incarceration. Gavin had been unemployed for seven months and struggled with mental health issues, all triggered by a bout of COVID-19.

Their job fair connection, however, changed the trajectory of their paths.

“Having a job with me, man, it means a lot, because I got three children, three beautiful children. I got bills I got to pay. And without a job, it’s hard to live out there, man. It’s hard to live without steady work,” Nate told us about three weeks into his new position. In that short amount of time, he and Gavin became valued employees.

“I get up every morning excited to come to work, because I know that this company is growing and I’m a part of that growth. It humbles me, man; it humbles me a lot,” Nate said. “It gives me dignity.”

Gavin credited the job with improving his mental health.

“If I hadn’t found the Better Together job fair, it’s hard to imagine where I’d be right now. I’m certainly in a much better place mentally. and it’s just helped me out tremendously,” Gavin said.

The job even helped improve his marriage, he added. “I have something I can be proud of. At the end of the day, I can come home and I’ve pulled my weight.”

The hires increased production by 30%, Russell said, and he’s been impressed by their work ethic. “From the interview right up till today, they have not let me down.”

How to get involved

Posted March 18, 2022 | Pamela Hayford

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