January 10, 2018

This award gives hope to job seekers struggling to create their American Dream

America’s Job Honor Awards recognizes individuals who overcome adversity—and the companies that hire them

America’s Job Honor Awards recently honored Milwaukee business owners Rashaad Washington and Reginald Reed Jr. Washington and Reed recruit at-risk residents of the inner city, training them in personal development and construction trades during a rigorous 14-week program. Photo courtesy of America’s Job Honor Awards

If you had asked me five years ago whether I’d one day launch a nonprofit to help disadvantaged job seekers, I might have laughed out loud. As the manager of a busy staffing agency in central Iowa, my focus was on people who were immediately employable. Our business was putting people to work, and frankly I had little sympathy for those who remained on the sidelines. Got a lousy work ethic, I reasoned, then you reap what you sow.

But one day I met a young applicant who would change the course of my life. Recently released from prison, he cheerfully announced his determination to turn his life around. He explained that he’d been struggling to find work for several weeks, but with no success. Though he pursued employment with the eagerness of a changed man, employers saw only his felony conviction. Whenever a job offer was within his grasp, it was snatched away at the last minute by the revelation of his criminal record. He moved on from interview to interview, dragging his past like a ball and chain.

By the time he reached my door, the monotony of rejection had taken its toll. His hope was fading. Convinced of his sincerity, I contacted several clients and colleagues—even attempted to call in a favor or two—in an effort help him restart his life with a new job. My entreaties were useless; the felony conviction was a dealbreaker. I gave him the bad news and he responded “It’s OK. I know I’ve lost everything, and I’ll never get it back.”

In the weeks that followed I met dozens of applicants who struggled with barriers to employment. Some, like the young applicant, were marked by criminal convictions but trying to relaunch their lives on a new trajectory. Others had disabilities, but with modest accommodation they could thrive in the workforce. I was increasingly haunted by the people we couldn’t help. The unrealized potential of these disadvantaged job seekers was made even more tragic by a cruel paradox: employers everywhere complained of their inability to find motivated candidates. In my mind, the divide that separated this untapped workforce from employers yawned like a chasm. I resolved to bridge that gap.

My own experience had taught me that statistics can’t win hearts and minds, but personal stories have that power. By sharing the stories of people who overcome employment barriers, we could inspire other struggling jobseekers and encourage employers to give them a chance by hiring them. I moonlighted to launch the Iowa Job Honor Awards, a nonprofit celebrating people who overcome barriers to employment and the employers who hire them. I embarked on a one-man campaign to raise money, solicit nominations, select honorees and produce honoree videos.

The first Iowa Job Honor Awards was presented in 2014. The reaction of the thousand business leaders in the audience was amazing: There were standing ovations for each honoree. There were many tears. It was a great day for disadvantaged job seekers in Iowa.

After sharing a video of the inaugural event with ManpowerGroup, a multinational workforce solutions provider, the company generously agreed to support my initiative as founding sponsor. I had arrived at the fork in the road: I left my corporate career to direct the nonprofit full time.

You have the power to make a profound difference in this world and in the lives of those around you. You’ll never regret trying.

Now we’re expanding nationally under the banner of America’s Job Honor Awards, and we’re currently active in four states: Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. We’re seeking additional sponsors to fuel our expansion into all fifty states. Our inspiring honoree videos have been viewed tens of thousands of times.

What began as a moonlighting venture on nights and weekends has grown into the full-time professional passion of my life. As my story makes clear, I was hardly a trained nonprofit manager looking for a job. I’m just a regular guy who was hijacked by a conviction: to not see the value in another human being is a terrible sin. I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead an organization that’s giving hope to struggling people. We open the door to the American Dream just a little bit wider, by celebrating a new kind of hero.

What’s your passion? Are you haunted by a social problem? Animated by a desire to change the world? As Edward Abbey wrote “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” Do something. Start small, and see where it leads you. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And always remember: The inability to do something perfectly is never an excuse to do nothing at all.

Echoing the words of William Danforth: I dare you, while there is still time, to have a magnificent obsession. You have the power to make a profound difference in this world and in the lives of those around you. You’ll never regret trying.

Follow America’s Job Honor Awards on Twitter at @jobhonor.

Kyle Horn

America’s Job Honor Awards

Kyle Horn is committed to helping all people achieve their potential in the workforce—including those in disadvantaged circumstances.

After several years in the staffing and recruiting industry, he stepped away from his corporate career to launch America’s Job Honor Awards, a nonprofit organization celebrating people who overcome barriers to employment, and the employers who hire them. His mission is to rekindle hope and energize the work ethic across the nation, through the celebration of a new kind of hero.
all stories