By LESLEY TOTH
Mille Lacs County Times
Going from a $20 an hour management position at a manufacturing plant to a $9 retail job wasn’t an easy transition for Milaca resident Robert “Herby” Fortune.
But if it weren’t for the help he received at Pine Technical College Employment and Training Center, a leg up with assistance like the Minnesota Family Investment Program, and a boost from the Supported Work program, there may not have been a transition at all.
“It helped a lot. I’ve been through this before — on and off jobs. I was basically there just for a little bit, until I found a job,” Fortune said. “It wasn’t something I wanted to do. I just wanted to get it over with and get a job.”
With his manufacturing job dried up and the economy still tanking from the 2007 recession, this time around was different. There simply wasn’t another manufacturing job for Fortune out there. But, with help from Pine employment specialist Doreen Polzin, he found his skills weren’t limited to the production line.
She not only helped him brush up his resume, improve his interviewing skills and assisted him with job searching, Polzin also encouraged him to sort out his driver’s license and helped him purchase a motor for his vehicle.
While he was looking for employment, cash benefits from MFIP helped support Fortune, his girlfriend of 18 years, and their five boys, ages 6 to 15.
“If I don’t wear them out by the end of the night, they’ll wear me out,” Fortune said laughing.
And while he was waiting for a paid position to open up, he also received valuable work experience at the Community Closet in Milaca as part of the Supported Work program. It was there that he learned he had a knack for retail.
“When I volunteered at Community Closet, they were right there, and I could turn to them for questions or concerns,” he said of Pine. “They were there for me — every day.”
It’s been an emotional roller coaster for Fortune and he said its important to address mental health during these times of great stress.
“My support group was Community Closet,” he said. “They’d listen to anything I’d have to say. It’s so psychological. If you can change a negative into a positive, that’s important.”
He also believes the stigma society still holds against those who seek assistance prevents many people from receiving the help they need.
“It wasn’t at all a walk in the park, but it changes your life,” he said. “It can make you a better person. If you don’t, it’s never going to change. You’re always going to be stuck. You have to make that first step. There are so many resources out there, it’s unbelievable. If you get this help, you can make it — anybody can make it.”
For the full story, see the Thursday, April 19 print edition of the Times.