Binghamton University alumni combat homelessness by building résumés, confidence

Lazarus Rising holds résumé and mock interview workshops at homeless shelters

Image Credit: Lazarus Rising.
Photography: Lazarus Rising.

It’s not easy to break into today’s workforce.

Beyond the education and work experience required for certain positions, there’s still the barrier of needing a résumé that stands out among the hundreds of others in the pile, as well as the ability to leave a good impression during a job interview — if you’re even able to land one.

Putting yourself out there for a job can be daunting — ask anyone who is just entering the workforce or re-entering it after being out for a while.

Lazarus Rising, a growing nonprofit organization run by a number of Binghamton University alumni, is helping to bridge these two groups while also making a difference in people’s lives.

Volunteers, mostly college students and young professionals, work with individuals at homeless shelters to help get them prepared for the job hunt. This includes helping to build résumés, holding mock interviews and walking them through the job-application process.

“There are so many misconceptions about homeless people,” said Danny Graziosi ’17, MBA ’18, CEO of Lazarus Rising. “A lot of them are people who have fallen on hard times. Maybe they went through a divorce or they lost everything during the recession or they were sick. They may have had the skills or the degree or the job, but something happened, and now they are trying to get back into the workforce again, but they don’t necessarily know how to do that.”

Lazarus Rising was founded by Matthew Rojas and Matthew Sobel at the University of Delaware, with the goal of combatting homelessness by empowering individuals to navigate the twists and turns of the modern-day job hunt. Graziosi got involved after transferring to Binghamton University from Suffolk County Community College to pursue a business education.

Working mostly with fellow School of Management brothers in the professional business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, Graziosi made his first visit to a Binghamton homeless shelter in November 2015.

“It was eye-opening,” Graziosi said. “I realized that the participants we were working with had a lot more work experience than people may assume. An important part of what we do is show our participants that they have value and that they can contribute that to society, giving them confidence in their abilities. It was a very humbling experience.”

Since that first visit, the Binghamton chapter has grown, with a number of recent alumni taking prominent roles on the organization’s management team.

Jake Oppenheim ’17 is one of them. While at Binghamton University, the accounting major had some free time in his schedule and figured he’d give the organization a try. But once he started working with participants, he made his involvement a priority.

“There was one particular participant who cried and gave me a hug after I worked with him. Just because I gave him time and helped him build a résumé,” Oppenheim said. “I still look back on that, and it reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Oppenheim is now the chief strategy officer of Lazarus Rising and balances the role with his full-time job at Goldman Sachs. With volunteers in five cities across the Northeast, including New York City and Philadelphia, the organization’s leadership realized it needed an efficient way to communicate with its volunteer base and keep track of what was happening.

Lazarus Rising struck up a partnership with PwC, and the firm donated over 150 hours to build a Salesforce platform for the organization to use. Salesforce is typically used to generate and keep track of sales leads, but the nonprofit wanted to use it to organize data in order to keep track of how it was helping participants.

“This robust data is important because it allows us to figure out how many people are going through our program model, where they are in the process and how many have gotten jobs. This information helps us to grow,” Graziosi said.

An estimated 400 people have participated in the program model since 2015, and more than 200 volunteers have been trained. Graziosi believes that these numbers will only rise as the organization learns how to best utilize cutting-edge resources and platforms.

“Even though we’re a nonprofit, we’re doing our best to run this like a business. But we’re also striking a balance between the two. We have a mission that we are trying to fulfill, but we’re also taking advantage of these tech platforms like Salesforce, Slack and G Suite to make sure we are communicating with everyone involved,” Graziosi said.

In order to not lose sight of what that mission is, Lazarus Rising leadership is required to go on a certain number of visits to shelters each year.

“In some corporate jobs, you may be working with numbers on a computer all day, and it may be hard to sometimes see the big picture of how you’re making a difference. But this — this is right in your face. You’re sitting across from someone and see directly how you’re helping to change their life,” Oppenheim said.

As the management team, which also includes Binghamton alumni Elizabeth Gerner ’18, Ariel Kutcher ’17 and Miranda Wasserman ’17, strategizes ways to grow and continue fighting homelessness in the United States, there is a sense that the sky’s the limit.

“I think a lot of people look at success as a competition,” Kutcher said. “But when you change your mindset from competition to cooperation, you can really see how people can help one another succeed. When you accept that mindset, you can go out and do everything you can to help the people around you succeed.

“And seeing that come to fruition is an experience that words cannot describe.”

Posted in: Business, SOM