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Agency Spotlight: RRD Interviews Brateil Aghasi from Women Helping Women/Men2Work

Brateil AghasiWomen Helping Women (WHW)/Men2Work

Provides comprehensive employment support services for all disadvantaged men, women and teens, empowering them to achieve economic self-sufficiency through employment success. When we reached out to our Facebook Contest Winner, Women Helping Women (WHW)/Men2Work, Associate Director, Brateil Aghasi invited us to tour their Santa Ana Client Service Center. She also answered questions about the services WHW provides, the growth of WHW, and general advice for those needing employment support services.

RRD: What are common areas your clients need the most assistance with (i.e. building resumes, interview preparation, etc…)?

Aghasi: Really, all of the above. I made a strategic effort to create comprehensive employment services with multiple programs.  One program without the other just doesn’t have the same effect. If you have the best suit on but do not have a resume or interviewing skills, or vice versa… then you are not the most marketable job seeker.  So you really need to take part in all of our service to be the most competitive. Our demand for all services is extremely high, especially in this economy. I can’t choose just one program, I can’t say job placement is more important than computer classes or apparel is more important than finance literacy workshops. All programs are all so important to each individual and their potential to create a long-lasting economic change in their lives.

Services that WHW does not provide but are very complimentary and our phones ring off the hook for people seeking these services would be for rental assistance and housing.

RRD: How has the face of unemployment changed with the current recession?

Aghasi: There has obviously been a higher demand on services, but I think the people who have been affected since 2008 really includes everyone.  It is you, me, and our neighbor- it’s everyone. Maybe before 2008, there were a lot of middle management jobs, a lot of people in the same job for 10, 20, 30 years making a good salary, with 401K, benefits, vacations, the whole package.  It’s those people since 2008 that have lost their jobs in addition to the traditional low-income population with barriers. This is a big shift, to have people who traditionally have supported a nonprofit now come in and are in need of services themselves. They may not need clothing necessarily, but are in need of computer classes and help with interviewing skills and job search support because the market and technology has changed dramatically. How you job search today is completely different a few years ago.

RRD: Where was WHW 10 years ago compared to today?

Aghasi: 10 years ago WHW was a very small, virtually unknown organization that solely focused on survivors of domestic violence. At most WHW served approximately 700 women with professional clothing a year.  Everything else is new; we’ve really had explosive growth!

RRD: What are the largest misconceptions of unemployment in Orange County?

Aghasi: There are a few, but one that comes to mind is ‘if you have a job, all is well’. In this economy, in Orange County, and nationally, when you have a job you are probably making less than what that job should be paying you. When you have a job, you are probably working part-time and not full-time. This market has changed; having a job now, could mean having 2 or 3 jobs. Pre-2008, a person typically had one job with medical, dental, etc. compared to having a job now, it is essentially not enough.

An additional misconception about unemployment now, is job searching. In this economy, it is going to take longer than 2-3 months to find a job. Even the most qualified and skilled person, it could still take almost a year if not more than a year.

RRD: Can you give us general advice to those entering the job search?

Aghasi: I think everyone tells you to have your cover letter, check your e-mail, very generic basic information. What people are not telling the unemployed or underemployed is that you need to network, because that is how you are going to get a job. It’s going to be through a referral or a job lead that is not made public.  So you have to build your network and be very aware of your personal brand. This is how you set yourself apart from the sea of people who are applying for the same job.

RRD: Can you give us a career fashion tip?

For what we sWomen’s Business Attire ee at WHW, both our female and male clients have a hard time wearing form-fitting pants. No baggy pants or too tight pants allowed at work! It sends the wrong impression. Fashion in the workplace is about setting yourself up for success.  Wearing professional clothing adds to your credibility.  I see it every day at WHW, when a man or woman looks at themselves in a suit for the first time.  They stand up straighter and just shine- they start to believe that they are worthy of employment.  And they are- what a powerful thing!


For our readers: Here are a few resources to help those in need of rental assistance.

  • S.O.S. (Share Our Selves): Direct financial assistance is provided upon request for basic necessities including rent, utilities and transportation www.shareourselves.org
  • Mercy House: Rental Assistance, emergency services, crisis intervention, money management, cold-weather shelter, emergency shelter, transitional and permanent housing. www.mercyhouse.net

  • South County Outreach: To receive rental assistance, call (949) 380-8144 ext. 209 for a phone interview and to make an appointment, have all of the documents listed above and a signed lease agreement, eviction notice, landlord email or fax number and bank statement, if applicable. www.sco-oc.org

  • SPIN: Provides move-in costs (first month’s rent and deposit) for permanent housing to low-income working families with children. The GAPP Housing Program is a one to two-year case management program, offering supportive services such as assistance with child care costs, job development, tutoring, budgeting, counseling, workshops, car repairs related to work, as well as other services. http://www.spinoc.org.