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- 2012 - September - 3rd -

Katrina evacuee ‘reinvents’ himself during 7 years with Goodwill

by Karen Brune Mathis, Managing Editor

Kendal McCoy considered taking the day off this past Wednesday but figured work was a better place to be.

“People need me today,” said the Goodwill Industries of North Florida employee, who trains people how to hunt for a job.

Not find or seek a job. Hunt for a job.

McCoy’s students range from those whose jobs were displaced by the recession to those who are homeless, ex-offenders, new to the city or who might have landed in Jacksonville with no money, family or employment.

People like him.

“I see myself in their eyes every day,” McCoy said.

McCoy, 38, evacuated New Orleans seven years ago when Hurricane Katrina made landfall there Aug. 29, 2005. The date continues to be an annual day of reflection.

It was more poignant last week as Hurricane Isaac came ashore in the New Orleans area seven years to the day after Katrina’s devastation.

His family there is safe, but was still without power heading into the Labor Day weekend.

McCoy’s story has been reported and bears repeating.

His life changed overnight when he fled his native New Orleans after Katrina ravaged the city.

Working one of three jobs, he missed the opportunity to leave before the storm hit.

He rode it out and then packed his car and left. Unable to reach relatives who went to Nashville, he reached contacts in Jacksonville and landed here.

McCoy soon headed to the Mandarin Goodwill thrift store to buy job-hunting clothes.

While he was shopping, the store manager heard his story and referred him to Goodwill’s Job Junction. Discovering his education in social work, Job Junction referred him to a position within the organization, where he was put to work as an employment specialist.

Seven years later, he remains an employment specialist at the Downtown Job Junction at the 333 E. Monroe St. office and leads its RISE — Reaching Individuals Seeking Employment — workshops. All the services are free.

McCoy teaches job-hunting skills, including a heavy dose of attitude adjustment.

“When tragedy happens, you have to kick-start yourself,” he said.

McCoy said people now come to his location and ask for him specifically.

“I interpret that as a cry for help,” McCoy said. “The more time I spend in the city, the more I know I can help people.”

Goodwill takes note of that.

“Kendal is doing a fabulous job. He is a great trainer and he just works very well with the population that we serve at the Job Junction and the RISE workshop,” said Karen Phillips, chief administrative officer of Goodwill Industries of North Florida.

“He has been displaced himself and that is one of his strengths. Having been displaced by Katrina, he certainly relates to everyone who comes through our doors. He relates to the population that we serve,” she said.

Goodwill is self-funded by its network of retail stores and turns the proceeds into job training, especially for people with disabilities and special needs.

Goodwill operates thrift stores and offers Job Junctions, which are walk-in centers that offer employment services, to anyone seeking employment.

McCoy talks reinvention now, referring to the expectation that people reinvent themselves every seven years.

He said his first three years in Jacksonville were fueled by the adrenaline “over being alive.”

The following couple of years was the time for “making the job my own.”

The past two years have been his focus on reinvention.

For example, he has been married almost two years. He also added more interests, such as working a few side jobs, including at EverBank Field with Levy Restaurants.

“Jacksonville has embraced me,” he said. “Goodwill has invested in me.”

He has taken up photography and has volunteered his service to a nonprofit. He’s thinking of starting a foundation for ex-offenders who are artistic to showcase their talents.

McCoy also is considering gathering all he has learned and taught and writing a book. He’s also giving thought to becoming a motivational speaker.

McCoy said when he first joined Goodwill, he was told he would be a trainer in workforce development.

“Workforce development,” he repeated. “I didn’t know what those two words meant.”

He became a student of research and webinars. He has developed his own rules for reinvestment and reinvention and he shares them with his workshop students at the Job Junction.

One of his rules is a person must hunt for a job – not seek, not wait, not expect offers to flow after attending a job fair.

“You have to practice professionalism all the time,” he said. “Do you want to be the next guy or do you want to be the best guy?”

McCoy tells his students they need to be vigilant in applying for jobs – double-digit applications a day if possible. He said job hunters with mobile devices have that ability at their fingertips. The Job Junction also offers computer access.

Once a job-hunter lands an interview, McCoy tells them they obviously have the skills for the job or they wouldn’t be invited for consideration. The interview is the time to convince the company that they should be hired.

He stresses that job hunters must realize the three roles they must fill in a job, customer service, workplace safety and teamwork, and to make sure the interviewer knows that.

Then he emphasizes a “VALUE” lesson.

He tells the students they are valiant to attend his workshops. That positive attitudes are a daily choice. That a competitive spirit must be leveraged to improve their chances. That each student has unique characteristics. And that job hunters must possess endurance and show enthusiasm.

“A company wants you to invest your all-in-all,” he said. “You have to reinvent yourself at your value level.”

In New Orleans, McCoy held a degree, but the tourism-dominated city offered few opportunities to use it. Instead, he worked three jobs as a cab driver, security guard and skycap, where he missed the last flight out of New Orleans as Katrina approached.

He considers Jacksonville his base of opportunity now.

One of his constant cautions is that “you can’t tell when the next tragedy is going to come.”

They key is to prepare yourself to survive, he said.

“To be somewhat fixed for seven years is a lot,” he said. “Every day, I look at what I can do better than yesterday.”

Kmathis@baileypub.com

@MathisKb

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