Little about the room directly across from Peggy Jones’ office—with its neatly arranged desks, old-school wooden podium and secondhand computers—screams transformative.
But don’t tell that to the down-and-out locals who’ve launched personal comebacks at one of the 12 workstations here. For approxi-mately 600 unemployed individuals over the past five years, there has been magic in that room—oppor-tunity that wasn’t exactly knocking prior to meeting Jones and the team of some two dozen instructors and volunteers that she oversees as coordinator of the job mentor program at Boca Helping Hands.
People from all backgrounds and of all ages—including unemployed in their 70s—have found work thanks to the computer classes, interview preparation, skills training and other resources offered by the nonprofit renowned for its food and emergency assistance programs.
“I feel like we’re planting seeds,” says Jones, who started at Boca Helping Hands in September 2008 and coordinated the opening of the job mentor lab the following April. “We’ll help anyone who wants to be helped. But they have to participate in the process and take responsibility. We’re not go-ing to spoon-feed them. I’ve seen people that I know come through these doors, and, yes, it surprises me. It’s up-setting. You want to think everybody is OK, but it could be any one of us. That’s part of the reason I do this. We can’t ignore people just because they’re struggling.”
Last November, the Junior League of Boca Raton recognized Jones, who receives no com-pensation for the 30-hour weeks she often logs at Helping Hands, as its Woman Volunteer of the Year. It’s a second “career” to which Jones, who spent nearly two decades as a school psychologist at various Broward County schools, felt an immediate connection.