At 63 years old, James Fry has finally found a job he loves with the help of Goodwill and a Ross County official who sought to fill openings for a grant-funded project with people who have barriers to employment.
James works part-time in an improvised office space in the break room of the Ross County Recorder’s Office inputting information from thousands of digitized property records into a searchable database. It’s work some may find tedious, but it’s just about perfect to James.
“I love it,” James said of his new job. “It’s the only job I’ve had in my life where I can’t wait to get up and go to work.”
It’s quite high praise from an Army veteran who has worked countless jobs over the years from casino chef to phone psychic. Some jobs he worked a day or a few weeks as he traveled around the country for a decade while others he worked for years.
“If I saw a job I couldn’t do, I applied to see if they would teach me, and they usually did,” he said.
James, who has lived in Chillicothe four years, also sought to improve his own skills, teaching himself to type using the Mavis Beacon program. It’s a skill that’s been more than handy with his new position at the Ross County Recorder’s Office. Recorder Kathy Dunn remembers using the same program in school and is impressed James took the initiative to teach himself to type.
“He’s better than me!” she said of his proper typing form.
Despite his skills and varied prior employment, James found himself at Goodwill in December seeking assistance in securing employment. His age was becoming a hindrance to his job search efforts, even in an area where being in recovery often is considered an asset.
“My last job I tried was peer support, and they said I was not experienced enough. I’ve been sober longer than most of the people there have been alive,” he said.
Not long after James’ intake at Goodwill, Kathy contacted Goodwill’s workforce development program about a few job openings. Her office had secured funds from the American Rescue Plan to index about 200,000 deeds that were being scanned into a searchable online database.
The American Rescue Plan aims to assist communities struggling due to the pandemic, helping to make services contactless where possible while also affording opportunities for job training assistance and creating jobs. Kathy estimated three people working part time would be able to complete the indexing project in three years. The challenge was finding someone who could read cursive on deeds dating back to the 1700s in addition to having basic computer and/or typing skills.
“This is a job somebody who has mobility issues and who has a hard time getting a job could do, so that’s why I called Goodwill, and they brought me James,” Kathy said.
James’ first two days was just supposed to be a trial, an assessment for Goodwill staff to observe his skills and identify what on-the-job supports, if any, he would need for a job. Kathy was prepared. She had grab bars added in the bathroom because she wanted to ensure his comfort and safety even if it didn’t turn out to be a good fit.
“I thought that was fantastic. You meet good people, but she goes above and beyond. She’s very kind,” said Goodwill Workforce Development Supervisor Penny Hall.
James’ assessment went so well, Kathy immediately knew she wanted to hire him. He had skills and a willingness to listen and learn from others, she said. Lesley Lowery, James’ Goodwill Employment Specialist, was elated.
“I’m very happy and excited for him. I respect him a lot. He’s a veteran and been in recovery for 16 years,” Lesley said. “It was the perfect timing, the perfect opportunity, the perfect marriage because Kathy was willing to overlook his past. James has literally thanked me every single time I have talked to him. He has a big, kind heart.”
Giving James a chance felt natural to Kathy.
“I feel like everyone deserves a chance regardless of their background. We tend to throw people away too quickly,” she said, noting those with a purpose feel better and subsequently do better.
While the deed indexing is expected to be completed in three years, Kathy hopes to continue digitizing additional property records which could mean the three positions – the other two were filled by women in their 70s – will continue beyond three years. James is OK with that.
“I want to stay here until I can’t anymore,” he said.
Do you or someone you know need workforce development services? Learn more here or by calling 740-702-4000.