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Project Iowa Helps Unemployed During Pandemic

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DES MOINES, Iowa — As unemployment continues to be an issue during the pandemic, a local non-profit has the mission of helping place unemployed or under-employed Iowans into jobs.

Project Iowa is a professional and personal development program that’s been in the community for a decade. It was having in-person classes at 1420 Mulberry Street before the pandemic hit. As it transitioned to virtual, staff members have seen an increase in people enrolling.

“We’re seeing lots of people come and want to switch careers. That’s what our audience has been currently,” Julie Fugenschuh, executive director, said. “People have been staying at home or lost their jobs because of the pandemic. The one thing that I think our agency is really prepping for is women have been greatly impacted by the workforce and COVID and stay-at-home schooling and all of that.”

The non-profit also has been a resource for people needing help finding the next step.

“We really saw people who kind of that light bulb went off under the circumstances,” Gaby Palacios, program manager, said. “And another interesting thing too is people found us because they moved to Iowa during a pandemic and had no connection or networking.”

Project Iowa works with both employers and people seeking livable wage careers to bridge the gap. The program is eight weeks long with a commitment of four days a week.

Participants take four classes that include: path to purpose, job seekers, digital skills, and wellness. These teach everything from resume development and how to interview via Zoom to working on someone’s emotional wellbeing.

Paige Robertson lost her healthcare job right before the pandemic started. She credits Project Iowa with helping her find her purpose.

“I had some time to think and I said, you know, maybe I don’t want to go back to what I was doing,” Robertson said. “Because there are four different disciplines that Project Iowa focuses on, one of those is path to purpose and really trying to figure out what you want to do and how you want your life to look.”

According to its website, Project Iowa has helped 400 people have a stable income.

With changing work environments, Fugenschuh said this is something needed not only in Iowa but everywhere.

“We want people to love what they do, and I think that will change the world of work,” Fugenschuh said. “It will change productivity where people are at. It will change cultures in businesses. I just think that people took jobs to make money, and we’re kind of flipping that on its head and saying find a purpose and get out there and do the work and the money will come.”

The program is free and the next cohort starts on May 3. For more information on how to apply, click here.

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