A creative program called AimHire is helping people find jobs

Perspective by John Kelly
December 5, 2023 at 1:57 p.m. EST

When Washington’s Curtis Robinson was experiencing homelessness, he turned to Friendship Place for help. The charity’s AimHire program assisted in his employment search. Robinson now works in a George Washington University dining hall. (Carlus McCormick)

For the want of a phone, the job was lost. For the want of a job, the house was lost. For the want of a house, the person was lost. And that, in a nutshell, is what AimHire works to prevent.

AimHire is a workforce development program from Friendship Place, a District nonprofit that’s a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand. It’s no surprise that many people who are homeless are also jobless. Sometimes, the impediments preventing them from finding a job aren’t what you would expect.

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“A lot of people don’t need new skills,” said Richard McKey, assistant director of AimHire. “They need a job with their existing skills, and they need a job as soon as possible.”

Participants who come to AimHire’s U Street NW offices get a quick orientation to the program.

“It’s an extremely brief intake process, intentionally so,” McKey said. “It’s slimmed down and fast.”

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Participants sign some forms that outline what the program’s expectations are: applying for five jobs a week and checking in with AimHire weekly. Then it’s right into preparing for the job hunt.

“We focus on addressing soft-skills barriers,” said McKey.

That includes assistance crafting a résumé, engaging in mock job interviews and providing much-needed encouragement.

“Many participants have been through the wringer,” McKey said. “Their self-confidence and self-image is low.”

They may be experiencing homelessness, recovering from addiction or dealing with mental health issues. The AimHire staff and volunteers work to boost their self-esteem.

Sometimes, though, what’s really needed is a smartphone.

“If they don’t have a phone, they can’t get a job,” McKey said.

Job applicants need to be able to look for jobs on their phones. They need to be able to immediately answer texts and emails from potential employers. And once they get a job, they need to access the phone apps many companies use for scheduling and payroll.

That’s why AimHire gives phones to participants who don’t have one. They’ll pay a person’s phone bill, too.

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Occasionally, that’s the last McKey will see of that person — “but not as often as you’d expect,” he said. “The idea is that you trust that the participant has the best understanding of their needs, probably better than you do. If you trust them, they repay that trust.”

It’s also vital that participants get up to speed with technology.

“There’s a digital divide,” McKey said. “Many participants can do construction work, security, janitorial, but they can’t use email. They just can’t do it.”

A common problem: Job offers get lost in an unchecked spam filter.

AimHire schools participants in email and trains them to use such sites as Indeed and CareerBuilder.

AimHire will pay for things besides phones, too.

“If their car broke down, and they can’t get to the interview, I can order them an Uber — and have done many times,” McKey said.

Some participants have come to the program having completed training for a commercial driver’s license but unable to afford the $200 cost of actually getting the CDL.

AimHire paid for it.

Similarly, many restaurant workers are required to have their own work outfit: black pants, a chef’s coat and slip-proof shoes. AimHire will provide those — “and pretty much whatever they need to get a job,” McKey said.

In the last year, 204 AimHire participants found work, McKey said. The average time to job placement was 60 days. The average wage was $18 an hour.

One of the successful participants was Curtis Robinson. Twice in the last few years the 44-year-old Washingtonian has experienced homelessness. He was staying at a men’s shelter in Southeast D.C. when he heard of Friendship Place and AimHire.

“They basically saved my life,” Robinson said.

He’s loved cooking since he was a boy.

“The average 10-year-old kid wants to go outside and play on a Saturday afternoon. Well not this kid,” Robinson told me. “I used to watch all the great chefs on PBS: Jacques Pépin, Martin Yan, Julia Child.”

AimHire helped Robinson apply for jobs. It bought minutes for his phone. It bought him work clothes.

Since March 2022, Robinson has worked preparing food in a dining hall at George Washington University. He found a home in Petworth.

“They sure have changed my life,” he said of Friendship Place and AimHire. “I couldn’t be more thankful for them.”

Helping Hand
You can support the work of Friendship Place by participating in The Washington Post Helping Hand. To give online to Friendship Place, go to To donate by mail, send a check to Friendship Place, 4713 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016. Thank you.

Your Donation Helps End Homelessness!

Your support for Friendship Place has a lasting impact. In 2023, our programs ended or prevented homelessness for 4,993 people, including 1,507 children in families and 670 veterans. We empowered 167 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness to get jobs through innovative, state-of-the-art job placement services. Make a donation today in support of our work to end homelessness. Questions? Please feel free to call our fundraising office, 202.957.7834.

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