By Jackie Kostek

CHICAGO (CBS) — We’re always looking for ways to help people get back to work in this tough job market.

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In order to do that, you’ve got to go into neighborhoods and see what’s working. CBS 2’s Jackie Kostek did just that, and found a heck of a success story in North Lawndale.

This is the story of a space nearly three years in the making. The North Lawndale Employment Network used to be housed in about four different locations across the neighborhood.

Now, it will be centralized in a former bank building at 1111 S. Homan Ave. of Roosevelt Road. The organization’s goal is to help people in the neighborhood find jobs.

“I pretty much resigned myself to the idea that I was never going to be anything,” said Fred Schroader.

Five years ago, Schroader had just about given up on his life.

“I had dropped out of college. I had some personal challenges. I hadn’t worked in about 13 years,” he said. “I’m not exaggerating – that $200 in Link card was literally all I had to look forward to.”

That Link card, the monthly help Schroader was getting from the State of Illinois, was what led him to the North Lawndale Employment Network. What he sought was guidance on how to prolong the benefits.

What he got was much more.

“They did teach a lot of skills but just telling people, inspiring people, and letting them know that they do have worth and they can contribute and they are special no matter what their circumstances are,” Schroader said.

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The circumstances for many on the West Side like Schroeder are dire. Chicago data show about 43 percent of North Lawndale residents live under the poverty line, and more than 20 percent of people over the age of 16 are unemployed.

Changing that is what NLEN is about.

“Ultimately, we’re here to reduce the unemployment rate in North Lawndale,” said Brenda Palms, the founder of the nonprofit.

Palms said the new space is open to anyone looking for employment, training, financial coaching, or a cup of coffee or tea.

“Anyone who is looking for employment, that we’re here for them,” she said. “That’s whether you have had a brush with the law or not.”

Palms understands employment is just one part of improving the quality of life for people in the neighborhood. But for people like Schroader, who has been hired to manage the new building, it can make the world of difference.

“Maybe a year after I got in touch with the North Lawndale Employment Network, I got a letter from DHS letting me know that I no longer qualified for Link card,” he said, “and that was probably one of the proudest moments of my life.”

Four years later, Schroader is preparing to buy his first home.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

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We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

CBS 2 Chicago Staff