Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

IVC NCA Member Profile: John Gradowski – A Perfect Fit at Friendship Place!

by | Feb 13, 2024

IVC service corps member John Gradowski, now in his sixth-year volunteering at partner agency  Friendship Place  in Washington, D.C., knew from the start that his placement there felt right.  The agency works with those experiencing homelessness and unemployment to help them obtain stable housing and jobs and rebuild their lives.  John thought he could make a real impact there, and he has.

Two days each week, he provides services to clients so that the agency’s full-time staff can address their more complex needs.  At Friendship Place’s Welcome Center on Wisconsin Ave., NW, his responsibilities include recording data on new arrivals – an important metric for social service provider reports that also helps identify those most in need of immediate housing.   Several hundred clients also utilize Friendship Place to receive their mail.  John coordinates this, ensuring that checks and identification cards (required to obtain housing or a job) are received and promptly distributed.

The Welcome Center is not just simply a place for clients to drop by and pick up mail. “We’re located in an old house and try to make it feel like a home,” he says.  “This is really a community where people stop by as friends and connect with others.”

John’s other assignment is at Friendship Place’s AimHire Job Placement Center on U St., NW.  AimHire works with those who have been displaced from the workforce and need assistance finding a job.  Staff members work with clients – including those who have returned from incarceration or are overcoming substance abuse – in the job search process. But they can’t do it alone!  That’s where John’s role is essential.

One day each week he leads an orientation session for new clients, completes necessary paperwork and links them to an employment specialist for the next step on their journey.  He also helps clients develop their resumes, improve interview skills, and successfully apply for positions.  Helping them find some of the best places to look for work is especially gratifying.  “Some come in with requests to take an online class, or to obtain a license or certificate online, and need help completing paperwork,” he says. “And I’m glad to help them do that.”

So is Friendship Place.   Rich McKey, an assistant director at AimHire, describes John’s contributions as “staggering” in helping clients.   “Our goal is to be responsive to participants’ needs and get them a job fast, and that starts with orientation,” he says. “John does a lot to make it clear what we can help with and to set the tone that we are here to help. He’s met with every participant who has come through our program, and since 2021 has talked with over 435 participants in orientation alone.”  Add to that his role at the Welcome Center, and McKey estimates that John has met over 1,000 participants over the last five years –which may be more than anyone else at Friendship Place!

Rich also notes that John’s impact has been terrific, especially helping with on-site job fairs and conducting mock interviews. “John really dove in and helped overcome challenges, especially during Covid doing outreach remotely by phone,” he says.  And with a recent staff shortage John’s contributions have helped keep Friendship Place’s large caseload moving along.  Twenty jobseekers have been hired already since October 1, 2023!

John is grateful to participate in IVC, which he learned of as he neared retirement following a long career as an information technology executive at PEPCO.  Feeling called to help the poor and marginalized, and to improve his spiritual life, he knew the Corps was for him.  Being able to serve others, connecting with a spiritual reflector and attending monthly City Group meetings has made all the difference in his life.  Two perfect fits – IVC and Friendship Place!