Abilene Realtor Guiding People into Jobs, Housing
By LORETTA FULTON
As a real estate broker and owner of a local company, Vance Cooksey is used to putting people into houses.
But an additional job as program coordinator for Work Again West Texas, in partnership with Goodwill-West Texas, is giving Cooksey an opportunity of a different sort to guide people into permanent housing. The program provides part-time jobs for people experiencing employment barriers created by homelessness.
Instead of selling people a new house, Cooksey sells them on the idea of learning lifeskills that hopefully will lead them to employment and permanent housing. It’s his way of doing what he believes he is called to as a Christian.
“I wanted to follow Jesus’ footsteps, “ he said.
Once the people in the program prove they can take on the responsibilities of a job, they transition into the Goodwill Career Center for job readiness training. Helping people get off the streets is something that appealed to Cooksey and he believed he was up for the challenge when he sought the position.
“I wanted to get elbow to elbow,” he said.
That is a literal statement for the type work that Cooksey and the folks he’s helping take on. Three days a week, five hours per day, Cooksey meets with people enrolled in the program. In association with Keep Abilene Beautiful, they all pick up trash from downtown streets and alleys and in nearby neighborhoods. It is not glamorous work and can be messy.
“I work right by them,” Cooksey said. “They get dirty, I get dirty.”
The job might not seem like a resume-builder to most people, but to the people served, it is a bit of hope and an opportunity. Besides keeping downtown clean, they also are proving that they can handle the demands of a job like getting to work on time, letting Cooksey know if they have to miss, and doing a good job once they arrive. If the weather is bad, the group volunteers at the Food Bank of West Central Texas.
Along with building their resume and getting paid for their work, each person in the program gets the benefit of an ABC program that Cooksey developed. It focuses on:
If the people in the program pass the lifeskills tests and learn their ABCs, they get to move on to the Goodwill Career Center for training for a better job.
Vance Cooksey is well known in Abilene, as is his wife, Mary Cooksey, director of 2-1-1 Texas A Call for Help, which operates through the United Way. Vance Cooksey was born in Abilene and graduated from Abilene High School in 1978. He holds two degrees from Hardin-Simmons University, a bachelor’s degree in music and business and a master’s degree in counseling and human development. He is a licensed professional counselor in addition to being a real estate broker.
Cooksey grew up at First Baptist Church and always had a music position at a church. He played organ at Sacred Heart Catholid Church and later became a Catholic. The Cookseys are members of Holy Family Catholic Church.
For a while, Cooksey lived in San Antonio and worked at Alamo Music. But something was calling him home. He listened and came back to Abilene. He also listened to another voice, or maybe the same one, that was calling him to follow Jesus’ example. He wasn’t sure what he would do back in Abilene, but he didn’t worry about it.
“It was one of those things I left completely in God’s hands,” he said.
That decision worked well for Cooksey. The decision to become a program coordinator for Work Again West Texas also is working well. It is the perfect way for Cooksey to fulfill his desire to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene