Richard Donnelly felt frustrated by his inability to find work.
He searched job boards and used temporary hiring agencies, but he wanted to find something he enjoyed. Something that broke up the monotony of warehouse work he once did. Something that had variety.
Something such as working for Janesville’s public works department.
Donnelly is one of four people currently employed through the city’s Opportunity Internship program. The program began earlier this year to help homeless people or others who are struggling to obtain jobs and build resumes.
Donnelly has cleaned sewers, mowed grass and picked up roadkill—whatever he’s asked to do.
“I like it because it’s not the same thing each day,” he said. “I’ve done potholing, road patching, just a lot of different skills I’ve been learning, which are really beneficial.”
The seasonal jobs are all within the public works department. Donnelly said he has been working for more than a month and hopes to stay on through fall leaf pickup.
The city developed the program early this year as one of several initiatives to help the homeless, though not all participants are. Donnelly lives with family and is working on finding his own place. He does not consider himself homeless.
Janesville partnered with Community Action’s Fatherhood Initiative and YWCA Rock County to find candidates, Housing Services Director Kelly Bedessem said.
Public Works Director Paul Woodard said having the nonprofits refer people to the city brings a case management element to the program. That’s important because Janesville is not equipped to deal with the personal issues some candidates have.
The department hired two people at first, but with more room in the budget, it later hired two more. That decision wasn’t an added cost to the city; public works already hires many seasonal employees every summer, he said.
Bedessem said the candidates had to submit resumes and go through an interview process. They are already undergoing job training skills through their nonprofits.
While government jobs can sometimes be vilified, many people still consider public sector work to be desirable. Those without lengthy work histories might be hesitant to apply for a city job, Bedessem said.
But the “feel-good” internship program serves as a bridge to city work opportunities. It’s possible some of the temporary workers could later be hired full time, she said.
It’s also possible that Janesville could extend the program beyond this summer and hire more seasonal employees, she said.
Donnelly said he hopes the internship program continues. It’s a valuable chance to do public service and hone job skills, even if the workers eventually pursue jobs elsewhere.
“It can really change people’s lives and outlooks on things,” he said. “I am surprised that I got the opportunity to do work for public works because it’s just a fantastic job. There’s always something different to do.
“This is one of those jobs that doesn’t come along very often in my eyes.”