Second Chance Success Stories, With More Coming Soon!

L to R: Vanessa Watkins and Jennifer Middleton (Photo: Wendy Reeves)

By Wendy Reeves
This article appears in the June issue of
Initiatives magazine, a publication of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber. We have details on our upcoming Second Chance Job Fair at the bottom of this article. Sign up for your spot today!

Vanessa Watkins walked a couple of miles to get to the Second Chance Job Fair in February. She left with a new housekeeping job at Candlewood Suites.

“I saw it on the news, Channel 48,” Watkins said. “I went on the website and scrolled down the list of who was going to be there, and I saw Candlewood on there and decided to go.”

Jennifer Middleton hired Watkins on the spot. Middleton is the director of sales for Candlewood Suites Huntsville-Research Park.

“I came through the door, went straight to (Middleton) and told her she was the reason I came and that I needed a job ASAP,” Watkins said. “I’ve been working all my life, and this is a perfect fit for me.”

Watkins said she is happy with the results.

L to R: Vanessa Watkins and Jennifer Middleton (Photo: Wendy Reeves)

“I love my job, and I’m not going anywhere. This is a blessing to me, and I come to work faithfully because it’s the best thing I’ve ever had,” Watkins said. “When I leave this earth, it will be from here.”

Watkins is one of many people who found work through the Second Chance Job Fair, held on February 27 at the Jaycee Community Building in Huntsville.

“Many of the people in Huntsville who want to work already do,” Middleton said. “Our unemployment rate is low, and finding people to work is hard.”

Middleton mentors underserved youth at area high schools where she talks about her job and how the industry offers resources for them to stay in school and graduate. She also finds out if they would enjoy a career in hospitality.

Whether it’s a college student who isn’t sure what they want to do, or someone who needs an opportunity, she says the possibilities are endless in the hospitality industry, from housekeepers to engineers.

She said Candlewood’s parent company, the IHG Group, sponsors the IHG Academy, offered to motivated individuals from any background who want to get a head start in their hospitality career.

“When the opportunity to participate in the Second Chance Job Fair came along, I knew there’s no better industry for someone to get a chance in because I know so many success stories,” Middleton said.

She believes Watkins is on track to be added to that list of success stories.

Other Hires

Judy Upton, who handles human resources for LifeSouth Community Blood Center, says the Second Chance Job Fair was among the best in which she’s ever participated. She was there looking for phlebotomists.

(Photo: LifeSouth at Second Chance Job Fair)
Caption: Judy Upton of LifeSouth talks with a candidate at the Second Chance Job Fair.

Judy Upton, left, talks with a candidate at the Second Chance Job Fair. (Photo: Claire Aiello)

“I was pleasantly surprised at the diverse group of candidates,” Upton said. “We met people with everything from GEDs to master’s degrees, and I was quite impressed with the traffic. It was a very well organized career fair.”

Upton received several resumes at the fair and made three conditional offers of employment. She said one of the new employees is working out, but she still has four positions she’s trying to fill.

“It’s tough right now because there is a lot of competition. From the medical perspective, Huntsville is huge so one thing is we try to be competitive with wages.”

She says finding candidates who can work a schedule that varies beyond traditional work hours is hard. Upton says she is looking forward to the next Second Chance Job Fair.

Cassie Watson Scott says her experience with the Second Chance Job Fair was not what she expected — in a good way.

“It was a huge success for us,” said Scott, director of Corporate Development for Quadrus Corporation and Capital Management Services. She hired three of four new employees that have worked out from the job fair.

Representatives of Capital Management Services meet with a candidate at the Second Chance Job Fair. (Photo: Huntsville/Madison County Chamber)

“The three are still with us and one is a fast track for a lead position,” Scott said. “One is working with us as a second job, and we are trying to figure out if we have something internally she can do so she can work both jobs with us.”

She says she enjoyed the atmosphere at the job fair that included competing businesses doing the same type of community outreach.

“We wanted to make sure we were helping those who walked in the door. If someone didn’t fit with us, we knew exactly where to point them to,” Scott said, “and it was neat to be a part of an event where everyone in the room had the same focus, so it was different in a good way.”

Scott says the janitorial business is hard work, but they are able to provide employees with benefits like helping them prepare to take a General Education Diploma (GED) course or learn how to better budget their money.

“We have one employee who is no longer in Section 8 housing because of those extra benefits we try to provide to help our employees have a better a life,” she said.

If it hadn’t been for the job fair, Scott says one new employee probably wouldn’t have been given an opportunity.

“We took the chance because he came to us from the Second Chance Job Fair … He has been fantastic, and we would have missed out on the opportunity to have him with us if not for the fair,” she said. “We are already excited about the next one because we’re looking to hire even more people by ramping up our contracts.”

Patricia A. Dosdall, a senior tax analyst with H&R Block says her office found several prospects through the Second Chance Job Fair.

“This was a wonderful opportunity for employers and applicants, as it enabled us to have one-on-one time with possible applicants,” Dosdall said. “We will be contacting those interested in the August-September time frame when recruitment opens for Tax Season 2020.”

The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber is planning another Second Chance Job Fair on August 14. Register here – it’s free to all Chamber member companies, and to job seekers.