Gwen Cain says she went to the Montgomery County Crisis Center in late 2018 after she escaped her abusive marriage, and that she was referred to the county’s Abused Persons Program. After the staff there ensured that she and her three kids were safe and had legal assistance, they connected Cain with CareerCatchers, a Silver Spring-based nonprofit that provides low-income and disadvantaged individuals with job counseling and workplace training. “I went there with an open mind,” she says.
Cain, 46, who hails from the Caribbean and lives in Clarksburg, had been working as a health administrator at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda for $15 an hour and needed a higher-paying job to support her family. With CareerCatchers’ guidance, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in health care administration online from the University of Phoenix. CareerCatchers also helped her update her resume, conducted a mock interview and connected her with recruiters. In December 2019, she took a program coordinator position with the Henry M. Jackson Foundation in Bethesda.
“It’s very empowering. When you’re in a situation like that, you don’t feel like you’re valued anymore,” Cain says. “CareerCatchers made you feel valued—made you feel that you do have skills.”
CareerCatchers has served more than 2,200 residents in the D.C. area since its inception in 2007. According to self-reported data, the organization assisted 527 people in 2019. Of the clients they saw intensively, about 70% found new or better jobs. Workshops are led by staff with occasional volunteer assistance, according to co-founder and Executive Director Mariana McNeill, and the organization also refers clients to outside job training resources, including scholarship programs at Montgomery College and online platforms such as Coursera.
McNeill says much of CareerCatchers’ work before the pandemic was location-flexible or done remotely because the population it serves often doesn’t have reliable access to child care or transportation. “When COVID happened, we already had that sort of mindset,” McNeill says.
In March, CareerCatchers transitioned all of its services to a virtual setting, with weekly “job clubs” on Zoom to teach skills on virtual interviewing and the “gig economy,” and an online workshop on filing for unemployment.
While CareerCatchers works with people of all genders and backgrounds, many are single mothers, domestic violence survivors or immigrants. McNeill, whose parents emigrated from Slovenia, says her background inspires her work. “Why should someone by nature of their birth or their lack of opportunities not be able to advance themselves?” she says.
When Cain was laid off in April due to the pandemic, CareerCatchers supported her again. The first place she sent her resume, the Department of Veterans Affairs, responded within a week. CareerCatchers taught her to negotiate her salary, and she started a remote executive administrator position in August. Cain says the job gives her a substantial pay boost and a benefit that covers tuition for her daughter Alexandra, who began attending college in the fall.
CareerCatchers (careercatchers.org) provides personalized career counseling services for more than 500 clients annually. Of those seen intensively, about 70% find new/better jobs, participate in training and receive post-job placement support. CareerCatchers’ customized approach helps domestic violence victims, immigrants, disadvantaged youths, and disabled, low-income and homeless clients on the path to earning a livable wage. In response to COVID-19, all services are provided remotely, with January to June showing a 20% year-over-year increase in clients served.
Headquartered: Silver Spring
Serves: Metro region
What a donation buys:
• $250 provides a resume, cover letter and skills assessment.
• $1,000 covers intensive support for a client, from intake through job retention.
• $10,000 builds capacity.
• Ongoing: Help with online job applications, mock interviews and weekly job clubs, or provide support for online training.