Linking Michiana – A Project of Love

This is Linking Michiana’s story, originally written January 23, 2013.  Maria Miller believes it is important to remember the beginning and preserve the memories. What began as a project of love Dec 29, 2010 has evolved into a referral service for employers and remains a resource for job seekers.

Linking Michiana is not a business, but a project of love – a love for my community. I too, was a job seeker getting nowhere; which led me to research my own failure. While doing so, I would share with my Facebook and personal friends the clues I uncovered. The more I talked about my situation, the more I was unintentionally helping people with their job search and assisting them with their resumes. My own failure turned into an inspiration. Late December 2010, God put the idea of helping people on my heart, but he didn’t give me directions! So, little by little, I have been trying to figure it out.

During Linking Michiana’s first year, most everything was done web-based. I built a web site with external resources, added a job fair calendar, and a job board that is powered by Indeed.com. To reach out to Linking Michiana’s friends, I added a Facebook page to share hiring news, job fair dates, and relevant articles that pertained to job hunting.

Linking Michiana’s first greatest success was Carol Burza, from Southern Michigan. Her work hours had become so minimal that she was forced to find another job.  In April 2011, Carol was hired by a reputable company in Wisconsin that would allow her to advance her career! She included me in everything from preparing her resume, negotiating terms to relocating. Yep! Carol and I went to Wisconsin together to go house hunting!

When Linking Michiana first established their Facebook (Fan) Page, it was easier to communicate with our friends and supporters from various cities throughout the United States. During the last quarter of 2011, I created a series for job leads titled, “Seven Companies Hiring, Apply Online!”  – hiring opportunities that were both fairly local to Michiana area and nationally. Since there was not any feedback on this effort I stopped doing it.

When 2012 came around, I got this brilliant idea to have my first job fair as a fundraiser for my childrens’ high school, specifically to raise money for the athletic department to assist students with whatever they needed to participate in sports. I didn’t expect the idea to go over too well, but it did! Within two months, Linking Michiana hosted their first job fair at Lakeland High School – raising $785! Lakeland School Corporation generously waived the fees for Linking Michiana to host their first job fair at Lakeland High School’s cafeteria.  I invested approximately 1,000 miles of driving to various towns seeking employers – we had 15 companies and a little more than 100 attendees. We even made the front page of the Kendallville News Sun two days later! There were some minor bumps along the way; but I proudly look back at this as a success, because I had never organized anything like this before in my life and I had a lot of fun doing it!

Linking Michiana’s job fair was a win-win for everyone! The cost for employers was only $40 – 100% of the money went to the  high school and members of our community had the opportunity to find a job. The thrill of it all was so exciting, that I had Linking Michiana’s 2013 job fair booked the day before our first job fair!

I almost forgot to mention, when I asked the coach about doing the job fair as a fundraiser, I never took into consideration that I didn’t know anyone around here! Since Linking Michiana isn’t selling anything, I didn’t need a business license, but I did need something to give Linking Michiana credibility. So, Linking Michiana joined three Chambers of Commerce. I didn’t set out to join three. I only intended to join two; one from a city in Michigan and Indiana. For 2013, I reverted back to my original plan. My favorite advantage with the Chambers of Commerce is networking. Linking Michiana has been blessed to encounter business owners to learn from and look up to.

After Linking Michiana’s first job fair, I began networking at other job fairs. For me, it was the perfect outlet to improve my networking skills and collect job leads. I referred to it as my one stop shop, because I could meet many company representatives under one roof; additionally, it was cost efficient.

By May 2012, just when Linking Michiana had built up momentum and was on the verge of turning a page, I stumbled backwards when my son, Nigel, left for Marine Recruit Training (boot camp). I refer to it as getting caught up in my mommy-emotions.  Nigel was my fifth child, of seven, to grow up and enter his future. I cannot explain why I reacted the way I did, but I was devastated. I did try to keep going forward with Linking Michiana. I even had my first booth at a Veterans’ Job Fair, in Auburn, Indiana. When it became obvious to my friends and associates that I was personally struggling, I just had to step away for a while and put myself back together. After all, I am human.

It has been said that you learn who your friends are when you are in trouble. I can sincerely say that I have very awesome friends, because everyone helped me through my transition – high school students, business associates and personal friends.

A very special thank you goes out to my daughter, Meagan Torres, a senior from Lakeland High School, who interned with Linking Michiana during the summer of 2012.  Meagan attended her very first job fair and wrote about her experience on Linking Michiana – Networking at My First Job Fair – What I learned! She and her friends were the driving force behind the success with spreading the world about Linking Michiana’s FREE Bowling Night!

June 2012, Linking Michiana began hosting FREE Bowling Nights – two hours of free bowling with shoe rental included!  We have grown these nearly monthly events from 30 to 150 (plus) participants! This was the most magnificent gift given to Linking Michiana by Sturgis AMF Bowling Centers in Sturgis, Michigan. Our FREE Bowling Nights have always been open to everyone, including children – Invitations were sent out by setting up an event from Linking Michiana’s Facebook page.

For each FREE Bowling Night, I printed flyers with job leads and met every person that attended. This networking event has been as simple as it sounds – an evening of family fun!  Linking Michiana’s FREE Bowling Nights can be deemed very successful, because three people gained employment! Two were high school students. The third, a mother shared a job lead from Linking Michiana with her daughter, who lives in Indianapolis – she was hired within two weeks. Also, Sgt. Bradley Harris, an Army Recruiter, has also been contributing and participating in our bowling events. To date, he has been talking with five high school students, three of whom are in process of enlisting in the Army.

I began this post with Linking Michiana’s first greatest success story, so I thought I would conclude with my most unexpected success story for 2012. Corn School is an annual fair that is held the first week in October in LaGrange, Indiana; where I met Holly Nater at a Reason 4 Hope booth – she and her best friend are co-founders of this non-profit organization.  Holly had been job hunting since May 2012 with no success. It had taken us a couple of weeks to get together, but within two weeks of helping Holly redo her resume, she was invited to a job interview. A week later, she was hired to fill a career position with a company in Goshen, Indiana.

Since I began Linking Michiana two years ago, most people have reacted stunned when they realized that I do what I do for nothing. The most asked questions have been: How do you benefit from this? And, why?

The answer has always been the same: “Nothing pleases me more than helping people.  I don’t charge for anything I do, because I feel it is inappropriate to capitalize on other peoples’ hardships.”

 

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