Clients use the computers to find jobs and improve their lives at Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization on Lincoln Boulevard that helps the homeless and low-income families secure employment. (photo by Brandon Wise)

LINCOLN BLVD. — First went the business, then the apartment.

After 20 years running an operation that represented wholesale clothing manufacturers to retailers in Downtown Los Angeles’ Garment District, 59-year-old Alvaro Sotelo was without a job or home, left to face a murky future in a hostile job market with both an outdated resume and no interviewing experience in two decades.

Then he found Chrysalis.

About a month after the Santa Monica resident began seeking services at the local nonprofit agency that helps homeless and economically-disadvantaged individuals secure stable employment, Sotelo is honing his computer skills, rebuilding his resume, learning interviewing tips and preparing to get back in the game.

“It’s all a new learning process for me because I have been out of the job market,” Sotelo said.

He is part of a wave of new clients who have reached out to Chrysalis in the past year, victims of an economic crisis that has forced thousands of people to seek employment assistance whether it’s to learn how to write a cover letter or even borrow a suit for an interview from the agency’s closet.

In its 25th year helping the down and out become self sufficient through employment opportunities, Chrysalis has seen a record nearly 3,000 clients come through the doors of its three locations in Downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Pacoima, representing a 40 percent increase over last year.

More than 1,100 of these clients have obtained employment in the first three quarters, which is consistent for the same period as 2008.

But what is different is the type of clients coming in this year, representing a demographic of workers who were laid off from good-paying jobs in which they once felt secure, losing their positions once their companies downsized or went out of business, Mark Loranger, the president and CEO of Chrysalis said.

“Not only do we have folks that we traditionally have seen over the years — homeless and economically disadvantaged — but we’re also seeing clients at the most vulnerable parts of our communities who may not be unemployed but are being underemployed,” Loranger said.

In response, Chrysalis is catering its courses to a contemporary landscape, focusing on teaching skills and techniques that are more attractive in today’s market.

At the same time the organization is dealing with a drop in individual donations and a slight decrease in corporate contributions.

“We’ve been stretched like a lot of people have,” Loranger said. “Fortunately for us we’re in an industry in serving a client base and doing work that people respond to and get.”

Loranger said he anticipates the organization to come out of the year in a “decent” spot financially.

Aiding the organization will be a fundraiser and celebration of its 25th anniversary on Tuesday at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel which will feature guest speaker John Dillon, who founded Chrysalis on Skid Row in 1984.

Dillon was 22 years old and fresh out of college when he made a life-changing trip to Skid Row, where the sight of crowds of homeless men and women sleeping on sidewalks and hanging aimlessly on street corners was enough to galvanize him into action.

His initial thought was to start a food pantry and clothing facility but quickly learned that the homeless population needed something different.

“What was missing from Skid Row was any emphasis on employment,” Loranger said.

He built an organization that would help the homeless and the economically challenged to find employment through counseling and classes.

More than 30,000 people have received services since then. The organization maintains an 80 percent success rate among clients who come in and complete the Chrysalis program.

One of the success stories is Kathy Jefferson, a Santa Monica resident who was referred to Chrysalis from a behavior modification program in Venice.

She had a long history of abusing cocaine and spent seven years in homelessness. Soon after arriving at Chrysalis, Jefferson landed a job in telemarketing.

The resume developed slowly, added with stints as a ride operator at Pacific Park and banquet worker at Casa del Mar hotel. Today she works as a barista at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on the Third Street Promenade.

Jefferson has been sober for seven years and rents an apartment.

“I did what I was supposed to do and kept going,” she said.

Sotelo is battling similar demons with alcoholism and depression, now sober for 60 days.

“I just got my 60-day chip from AA (Alcoholics Anonymous),” Sotelo said.

The garment business went under after his partner suffered from congestive heart failure. The partner is now awaiting a heart transplant. After the business, Sotelo lost his apartment, forcing him to move into his car. Depression hit harder as a result.

A referral from Edelman Westside Mental Health brought Sotelo to Chrysalis.

“This has been my home away from home because people know my situation,” Sotelo said. “They understand what it is that I need to do to get myself together and get back in the marketplace.”

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