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Counselor now on duty to help Katrina evacuees in job search

Emma Williams left retirement to accept a six-month positionwith the Mississippi Department of Employment Security to help GulfCoast reintegrate into normal lives.

A native of Franklin County, Williams retired as a social workerin San Diego two years ago and returned to Mississippi to care forher mother. She decided to leave retirement to accept a temporaryjob when she realized her skills could be of benefit to evacuees inthe area.

“I wanted to help and I wanted to use my skills as a socialworker, so it sounded like a good match for me,” the Bryant HighSchool graduate said.

As a reintegration counselor, Williams’ primary purpose is toprovide intensive career and life counseling directly to HurricaneKatrina evacuees in order to speed their return to the laborforce.

“Our biggest role is placement, but they have all these otherissues that they have to deal with at the same time,” said DavidHolland, director of the WIN Job Center where Williams islocated.

Holland said the MDES received more than 670 applicationsstatewide for the 25 temporary positions.

“We think we got 25 well-qualified people,” he said.

Reintegration counselors were spread across the state, butprimarily south of Interstate 20 with a concentrated push along theGulf Coast, Holland said.

Working out of the WIN Job Center, Williams said she willattempt to serve evacuees in Lincoln, Lawrence and Franklincounties and Wesson. Reintegration counselors have also been placedin McComb and Natchez.

The reintegration counselors have a six-month contract through aNational Emergency Grant issued by the Department of Labor. Thegrant funds the counselors in eight states affected byhurricanes.

“My duties are probably more intense than what they mightreceive from visiting the WIN center,” Williams said. “I also tryto allay whatever other crisises they’re facing.”

In addition to helping evacuees find employment, reintegrationcounselors also try to address issues related to housing,transportation, education, medical problems, job training, Vetsservices, relocation, vocational rehabilitation, aging, child care,mental health and coordinate programs with the Department of HumanServices.

It’s a daunting task, Williams admits, and she is building anetwork of contacts with other permanent and disaster-specificagencies to help guide evacuees through the process ofre-establishing themselves.

“Most of the people I’ve talked to have family ties here and arelooking to stay,” she said. “They’ve been back to the coast anddecided it’s not a stable enough environment for them to livein.”

A vast majority of her clients have been since she started Jan.3 have been from the New Orleans area, Williams said.

Holland urged evacuees to get jobs as soon as possible. Manyplaces in Lincoln County are still hiring, he said. However, by theend of spring, when disaster-related unemployment benefits end, themarket will be flooded by people.

“It would behoove people if they have a good opportunity now totake it,” he said.

The surge in construction jobs on the coast has virtuallytrickled away, Williams said. People waiting for recruiters fromconstruction companies working on the coast to return to Brookhavenshould consider seeking jobs elsewhere.

The MDES is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Itis located on Brookway Boulevard south of Highway 51.