A small number seek SEMS on their own without intervention. They are seeking a small bit of assistance and motivation to either complete an education or get a job.
SEMS is being used as a tool by the Gloucester County Probation Department as part of that department's "Working for Work" program, which tries to help
criminal offenders get a job and stay out of trouble.
It also is being used by the county's Social Services Board, which oversees such programs as welfare and is hoping to decrease the number of people on welfare. Murphy describes the county's program as a partnership between the county agencies and SEMS. But SEMS is actually under the umbrella of School Alternatives and Counseling Services Inc., a private nonprofit corporation.
Murphy estimates that about 65 percent of his students are referred by the
commission. A large percentage of the remainder are referred by the probation department.
SEMS is located inside a two-story brick building off Delsea Drive near Glassboro State College. Standing before his class, which is seated in a
horseshoe in front of him on a recent morning, Murphy is wearing a gray suit and gray shoes, suspenders peek- ing out from underneath his jacket.
Several of the students are dressed in similar attire; dresses or suits and ties. Others are dressed neatly in jeans and sweaters. They are alert and attentive and ask many questions. But the students are the first to admit that when the class began, they were not as talkative and conscientious.
The training lasts eight days for each group. On the sixth day of training, the group numbers 15. While he sometimes teaches groups of teenagers, the median age for the students in this group is about 29, he said.
By the sixth day of training, Murphy already has bolstered their self- esteem, by having them discuss in class their positive qualities, and covered the writing of resumes. He is now discussing the interview process.
It is all about selling yourself, he tells the class. Nervousness has to be overcome. "You finally got center stage. You open your mouth and nothing comes out," Murphy says.
For job applicants whose self-esteem is not exactly at its peak, Murphy has a few pointers:
The interview process is a game, he tells them. "It is a game from the point of view that the employer is saying, 'I pretend I have the perfect job for you' and you pretend you have no defects . . . that you're the perfect person.
"You're not supposed to be perfect. You're supposed to be you. You turn a negative into a positive," he says. "When faced with something that could eliminate you from this job, do something about it."
Students who haven't graduated from high school should take the equivalency test, he says; they should present a neat appearance.
When the course begins, he says, "they're in sweat pants. In a few days, we don't say a word about it, but they start dressing up. It's a real subtle change."
Murphy also advises, "Negatives are not something that is wrong with you, but things that could eliminate you - things that are perceived as negative that are really not."
"What about the part where a criminal record comes in?" a man asks.
"Never, ever, lie about a conviction. They can check that out. It's a matter of public record," Murphy warns.
"You want to find an effective way to get by that," Murphy says. ''Direct that thing that's negative in a positive direction.
In what seems to be contradictory advice, Murphy suggests that if a job application asks whether there has been an arrest or criminal conviction, the applicant should write "no."
Most people do not consider people with criminal records good risks, he says, and the application might be tossed into the trash before an interview is scheduled and the applicant can explain the criminal record.
But if the applicant gets an interview, the moment the applicant walks into the interviewer's office, that person should tell the truth this way, Murphy says:
"There was a tough question on the application. It was hard for me to answer. I have been arrested and convicted, but I wanted to talk to you about it personally. If you want me to go back and put yes, I will, but I didn't want this to prejudice you against me before I had a chance to explain."
People are influenced, he says, "just by the power of the language that you use."
For example, an applicant who did not finish high school should never say, ''I dropped out." Instead, respond with: "I left high school."
Or, if trying to account for an abrupt end to a previous job, Murphy suggests, "It's OK to say 'We had a personality clash. It was not their fault, it was not my fault.' "
And when a criminal record or gap in educational background comes up, he says, face it head-on, and let the employer know you take responsibility, Murphy says.
"Represent them as things you have done instead of things that have been done to you."
During a lunch break, two of the students talk about their experiences with the class.
Susan, 25, of Paulsboro, who asked that her last name not be used, says she was sent to SEMS by the county Probation Department after she was arrested for writing bad checks. The class was not easy at first, she says.
"The first day it was really touch and go," she says. "Nobody knew anybody."
Murphy has them introduce themselves and define for the class what happiness and success mean to each of them. Gradually, the students became more confident, he says.
"It's a lot easier for us to get up there now (to speak in public)," Susan says. "He really holds your attention. He puts a lot of feeling in what he says."
Susan says she wants to go to college now and become a child psychologist.
One of her classmates, Godfrey Horn, 27, of the Sewell section of Deptford, says he came to the class on his own. He already has landed a job, he says, at Electric Mobility Corp., a manufacturer of electric wheelchairs, in Mantua Township.
He began work Monday.
Murphy is excited about the successes of the program, but he is quick to add that 50 percent of the people who are referred to the program do not show up.
Of the ones who do, he estimates that about 30 percent succeed - find employment or get a degree and then a job. Since September, when SEMS opened, five classes of about 15 students each have been through the program, he said.
Murphy is a former Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Camden. After about five years in the priesthood, he left and began work at the Vocational Resource Center in Glassboro, where he is still senior job director.
The center also does motivational training for juveniles. The individual needs of the juveniles are considered in determining whether they should go to the center or the seminars.
Murphy said he got the idea for SEMS from similar programs operating in Camden and Philadelphia.
Murphy, who said his religion is still important to him, also said his current job was attractive because of its similarity to his former career.
The program received $160,000 in federal money from the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), which the county administers. The funds were allocated for the start-up and administration of SEMS through June.
Renewal of the money, which is provided on a yearly basis, will depend on SEMS' success rate. Because JTPA is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, Murphy said, the number of students who find jobs is an important measure of the program's success. About 70 percent of the students they train must receive jobs in order for SEMS funding to be renewed, he said. Murphy said if SEMS does not reach that goal, "We'll get very close to it."
Most people, he said, "are here because they have to be here." Either they are told that their welfare checks may be discontinued if they refuse or they have been ordered to attend by the courts. Welfare recipients have no mental or physical disabilities that would prevent them from working, Murphy said. The Social Services Board required that they either enroll in a job- training program or actively search for a job, he said.
Some come in angry, he said. He can help those who do, Murphy said, by
helping them channel the anger in a positive direction. Those who are apathetic, he said, probably won't succeed.
On the first day of class, students are given $1. On the last day of class, which is graduation day, they are to receive $100. This says to the students, ''This is $100 you earned by applying your time and your interest," he said.
Follow-up also is a part of the program, he said. The Probation Department
keeps in touch with its program graduates, for example. Without it, Murphy said, the program would be useless. What happens to students after they leave and are employed is difficult to determine, Murphy said. Since the program is only five months old, no statistics are available.
In the meantime, Murphy tells the students to eliminate actions or feelings that stand in the way of their goals. "Remember that asset you have, called time. You only get so much of it. Don't waste it."