Volunteer Spotlight

Rising above: How a Minnesota non-profit is helping people find meaningful work


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While finding a job can be difficult, keeping a job can be even more challenging.

For those trying to accomplish either – while also dealing with a chemical dependency, criminal background, family trauma, mental health issue or homelessness – it’s nearly impossible. And too often, the lives of people facing these common situations become broken by generational cycles of poverty. 

Fortunately, there’s a job training organization dedicated to helping end this cycle in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. And they’re doing it a little differently: with purpose and with dignity. 

By emphasizing and teaching personal empowerment skills – in addition to professional skills – the non-profit Twin Cities R!SE (TCR) is transforming lives through meaningful employment. 

As a current participant, Pam, explains, “To me, meaningful employment means that I’m responsible, skilled and employed in a job I am comfortable with and fully capable of doing. Twin Cities R!SE has given me the skills to be able to do that...it’s been life changing.” 

female mock interview participant

RBC Wealth Management employees participate in a job interview role-playing session with TCR participants

Doing it with dignity

Through their signature Personal Empowerment program, TCR equips the participants that come through their program with skills for long-term success, including self-confidence and self-reliance. Individuals learn how to identify, regulate and manage their emotions. 

Over the course of eight weeks, they grow to understand that they are loveable, important and valuable – powerful ideas and phrases that they may have never heard before. 

During their time in the program, participants take other classes as well, including career development, structured job search, empowered communication, speech craft, computer courses and workplace collaboration. This is all to develop their 21st century skills. But the Personal Empowerment course has remained the key differentiator for the continued success of TCR. 

For the past 10 years, 82 percent of their program graduates have had a one year employment retention rate, which is double the national average for organizations like them. And they have further proof points as well. 

“The average participant comes to us making less than $5,000 a year and graduates earn over $28,000 a year,” says Brian Herstig, TCR vice president of advancement. “That’s a five- or six-fold increase, and that kind of jump in income is really transformative. 

“It allows people to take off their harnesses, get their families back, contribute to society and take control of their lives again. And it puts them on a path to financial independence.” 

mick dyer speaking to group

RBC Wealth Management’s Mick Dyer talks to fellow employees and TCR participants at a job interview role-playing session

Finding a connection 

“The outcomes that TCR produces are really phenomenal,” says RBC Wealth Management senior copy writer and long-time TCR volunteer, Mick Dyer. 

“TCR is a nonprofit that’s run like a business and they have measurable results. So you know that the time you put into or the money you donate to it will deliver a return on your investment; it’s very well run and very well managed.” 

Nine years ago, Dyer attended a presentation at RBC that featured TCR, and he left the meeting captivated by their powerful mission, effectiveness and ideas on empowerment. 

At that time Dyer was Chair of the RBC Multicultural Employee Alliance (MEA), an employee resource group that supports diversity and inclusion at the firm, as well as establishing relationships with diverse communities. He recognized right away that TCR was the community organization that his group was looking to volunteer with. So with collaboration from both sides, Dyer helped to establish a job interview role-playing program. 

Through this program, TCR participants have the opportunity to show what they’ve learned in the classroom, and receive verbal and written feedback in a real-life scenario. Afterward, there is often lunch and a networking social hour for everyone to enjoy together. 

male mock interview participant

TCR participants receive feedback from RBC Wealth Management employees during a job interview role-playing session

Since 2008, RBC has worked with 20 to 30 TCR participants nearly every quarter, and to date, it’s one of TCR’s longest on-going relationships with an employer partner. 

Herstig credits the success and longevity of the program to the partnership between RBC and TCR, which has to do, in part, with Dyer. 

“Every cause needs a champion, and for this cause Mick is that champion,” says Herstig. 

Even with leadership and staff changes within both TCR and RBC, Dyer has been consistent, Herstig said. “He understands that it is really easy to make a difference in someone’s life… and he really understands what it can mean to an individual – and that’s why I think he continues to do it.” 

Additionally, it’s the empowerment aspect that energizes Dyer and keeps him tied to the organization, even completing additional volunteering outside of work, helping TCR with other marketing needs like newsletters and surveys. 

“I think when you’re around empowered people, you see how to be empowered yourself,” says Dyer. “They’re role models.” 

mick dyer handshake with Twin Cities Rise

Bill Bridgeman of TCR thanks Mick Dyer at a job interview role-playing session

A new way of life 

TCR participants acknowledge the transformative nature of the program as well. One practice interview participant, Scottie, explained that empowered living has become a way of life. 

“When I first got to Twin Cities R!SE, I was a person that never spoke to anybody, never looked them in the eye, never did anything,” he said. “I was a person that was used to being quiet, basically a really hurt guy. But the empowerment course really brought me out of my shell and prepared me for the real world.” 

As a previous career coach and current business development coordinator at TCR, Tynaia Pittman has witnessed countless individuals like Scottie overcome their challenges and hardships. 

“When they use the tools that were presented to them, little by little you can see them change the way they talk, the way they walk, who they hang around, and how they perceive themselves and other people,” she explained. 

Once the participants have graduated from the program, are working full time and making at least $21,000 a year, TCR holds a ‘ring the bell’ ceremony. Each individual gets to ring the celebratory bell at the TCR offices, and share their story with staff and other participants. 

It’s an inspirational moment, and one that shows – as Dyer likes to say – “empowerment is for everybody.”