The basement of the old Fourth Street church is now a haven for those needing help with résumés, cover letters, interviews and other job-related advice.
Martha Warren, 50, of Los Banos said much of what she learned during the Helping Others Prepare for Employment, or HOPE, Center's training was new.
"It was good for me, because it opened my eyes," Warren said. "I was like, 'I have to have a résumé? Really?' "
The Salvation Army secured a $25,000 grant from Thomas Lyle Williams & Ministry on Oct. 1 to fund the HOPE Center. Organizers said it the center uses retired professionals to assist job seekers.
Warren was recently laid off from her seasonal position at Ingomar Packing Co., and is looking to get on with the incoming Dollar General. She's building a portfolio at the center.
"It does help you a lot," Warren said, adding the interview clothes supplied by the Salvation Army were a plus.
"I got a big compliment," she said.
Sandy Lemas, a retired 35-year veteran of Worknet, said she can provide extra help to job-seekers needing more attention than what other agencies may be able to offer.
"We want to complement other agencies' services, we're not competing," she said.
HOPE Center offers help and classes in building a portfolio -- résumés, cover letters, thank-you letters and so on. All of the programs are bilingual, Lemas said.
An employment service like this could benefit some of Los Banos' 15.3 percent jobless or 18.7 percent who live below the poverty line. In January, U.S. News & World Report called Merced County the worst place in the country to find a job.
The center will hire a part-time employee in the coming months. It also offers life-skills, healthy-eating and budgeting classes, as well as a reference library, personal hygiene products, laundry products and haircuts.
Lemas said getting back out in the job market can be difficult, especially if you've been unemployed for a few years.
"First off, they're not used to looking for work and they're figuring it out as they go along," Lemas said. "So, we want everybody to be aware of the services (in town)."
There have been a handful of people hired after using the lab in its first month, Lemas said. The Salvation Army helps cover some job-seeking expenses, a California Food Handler Card fee, for example, for those seeking employment assistance.
Sutter Health donated the six computers in the lab, plus two more for the Salvation Army office.
The Rev. Joe Roberts, an envoy for the outpost, said the computers are also available in the late afternoon for students to use.
"A lot of kids don't have computers at home," Roberts said. "They can come here, do their homework on it."
Roberts said the center will see some cosmetic upgrades in the near future.
The other half of the Salvation Army basement holds donated clothes. Lemas said she has a collection of clothes ready for anyone headed to a job interview. Her connections to other area nonprofits, she said, means she can find the right clothes for anyone.
The HOPE Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for job seekers and from 3 to 6 p.m. for students. For more on the center, call (209) 827-4945.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.