By JoAnne Cannon
Special to Delaware Business Times
Matt Rojas is a man on a mission.
He returned for his senior year at the University of Delaware where he continues to divide his time between classes and helping the homeless find jobs. Founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization Lazarus Rising, Rojas, along with COO Matthew Sobel, CFO Jim Celia and talented student volunteers have resurrected, metaphorically speaking, the homeless from the streets and shelters of Delaware by affording them the necessary job placement skills to procure a job.
“About 47 percent of the people that we work with after just one hour of direct service found jobs within one month,” said Rojas. “It’s an honor to help them.”
The volunteers at Lazarus Rising have helped more than 50 people find jobs this year, according to their website.
The statistics on the homeless are sobering. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, approximately 578,424 people experience homelessness on any given night in the United States. More than 216,000 either have children or are children. According to the Homeless Housing Council of Delaware, there are estimated 6,000 homeless individuals in Delaware.
For Rojas, the journey to nonprofit founder began three years ago when he found himself in need of advice in the resume and job market application process. David Sang, who subsequently became a member of his strategic advisory council, supplied him with a much-needed lesson. That lesson was instrumental in fostering this realization: If this process was difficult for him, it must be nearly impossible for those who need opportunities the most — the homeless.
Determined and on a mission, Rojas headed to nearby shelter Emmaus House. He met with the director and pitched his resume workshop idea of preparing participants in the shelter to secure employment. Shortly after implementing the workshop the director contacted Rojas notifying him that someone received a job. That feeling of helping someone change their trajectory in life was overwhelming and addictive to Rojas. He realized he had something here and was going to need the assistance of others to make this work on a larger scale.
“The main reason someone comes to a shelter is the loss of employment, therefore it stands to reason that gainful employment is the ticket out,” said Rojas.
Shelter residents have myriad back stories but the common thread is that something unfortunate happened and they need an advocate. Lazarus Rising is their voice and they want to be heard, he said.
The mission statement is clear. “Lazarus Rising aims to effectively and efficiently combat homelessness through the provision of job placement skills. We empower our participants through personalized resume reviews, mock interviews, and job search portal navigation at absolutely no cost to either our participant or out community partners.”
The nonprofit has received the assistance and recognition from Gov. Markell, Rep. John Carney and Newark Mayor Polly Sierer.
“I am impressed with Matt’s compassion for helping those less fortunate than himself. His ability to develop Lazarus Rising and provide the leadership necessary in a volunteer environment is so important to removing barriers and insecurities of the homeless,” said Sierer. “The collaboration between the Newark community and University of Delaware students in helping those in crisis with job placement skills is what makes Newark such a great place to live, work, study and play.”
Rojas said his future aspirations include education reform, and that he will devote his life to addressing socio economic and urban issues that result in homelessness.
In addition to his studies and his commitment to Lazarus Rising, Rojas volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters, serves as president of UD Chapter of the Roosevelt Institute and is an officer candidate in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Lazarus Rising now has chapters at six universities and plans to continue expanding nationally, according to Rojas.
Web snapshot: Lazarus Rising
How is the program structured?
Our program model is comprised of two sessions. To begin, we set up a block appointment for two workshops with one of our community partner homeless shelters to host the program. During the first session, our volunteers work with participants on resume-writing and review. During the second session, the focus shifts to job interviews and job portal websites in order to give comprehensive employment training to our participants. These sessions are one on one and last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes for each participant.
How are volunteers trained?
Most of our volunteers, being university students, have written countless resumes and been through numerous interviews. That being said, we also provide a crash course on how to systematically write an effective resume and how to succeed during a job interview. We also instruct our volunteers on how to give constructive feedback, how to manage conflict, and how to handle sensitive issues that might come up.
What happens after people go through the program?
Upon completion of the program, our participants receive a certificate and all of the skills they need to get a job. We keep in contact with our graduates in order to track their progress and see if we can continue to help in any way.