Category Archives: CareerWorks

Otis Hillsman’s Mission: “To Serve Others”

Otis HillsmanOtis Hillsman has been with Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency since day one. As vice president of programs and inter-agency relations, he has helped numerous homeless men and women on the path to self-sufficiency and has set in place the tools to help many more.

Otis is retiring at the end of the year. But his ideas will live on. The man who considers his life’s mission “to serve others” shared some of those ideas in a keynote speech to graduates of ACSS Class 37.

Click on the video below to watch highlights from Otis’ speech.

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Filed under ACSS Awards & Accomplishments, ACSS Programs, CareerWorks

Gordon Ellis: At the Heart of ACSS’ Mission

ACSS Employment Consultant Director Gordon Ellis

ACSS Employment Consultant Director Gordon Ellis

By Barbara Hughes | ACSS Volunteeer

This is the first in a series of blogs that will profile the ACSS staff.

I love volunteering with ACSS in whatever capacity I can be the most help. I’ve often wondered about the staff. I know them, of course. But what drives them to do what they do every day, often in a difficult environment? The best way to find out was to talk to each one and I thought I would share what they told me about working at ACSS.

Gordon Ellis is ACSS’ Employment Director. But I like to think of him as a force of nature: boundless energy and enthusiasm, brimming with ideas and with an ever-present smile. He sees his role as relationship building, both with prospective employers and with the VIPs (Visionary Innovative Partners) ACSS serves. Mostly, Gordon wants the VIPs to know that they have an advocate.

He came to ACSS via the Fulton County Human Services agency, working on the welfare-to-work program for single moms. On his first day at ACSS, he was thrown in at the deep end by leading his first CareerWorks workshop. But I don’t think that fazed him one bit!

You won’t find Gordon using the word “homeless” to describe the VIPs. He uses terms such as “in transition” or “hitting a speed bump,” but never the “H-word.” His other pet peeve is when a VIP describes him or herself as “just,” as in “just a truck driver” or “just a housekeeper in a hotel.” So the workshops Gordon runs are designed to give the attendees confidence and change their mindset about being a “just.” Mock interviews and resume writing are two components of Gordon’s workshops. He invites local businesses to participate, which lends an air of reality.

He has developed 35 to 40 close business partnerships with local businesses. Many participated in the third annual Job Fair held in February and Gordon described it as a big success. The results are still coming in but he said that right now, 20 to 25 VIPs have secured jobs and several more are still interviewing. This, at the end of the day, is what ACSS is all about: jobs.

Many businesses will be attending the third annual Job Week during the week of May 13th at ACSS’ offices in midtown. Each day will feature an industry, such as security, warehousing, administration and retail. Each business will provide an overview followed by Q&A with the VIPs. The prospective employers provide notes following informal interviews and then official interviews are scheduled.

I asked Gordon what his personal vision for ACSS was. Without hesitation, he said, “to go out of business.” Isn’t that a vision we all can share?

Come join us! Donate. Volunteer. You can help ACSS break the cycle of homelessness.

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Filed under ACSS Programs, CareerWorks, Upcoming Events

For the Record Books: ACSS Class 29

graduatewidefullBy Natalie Lynch | ACSS Volunteer

Before I heard the words, I knew something was unique about Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency’s 29th Graduating Class. There was something contagious and prideful in the widths of their smiles. The way they held their heads up high made them all appear taller than anyone else in the room.

At a March 22 graduation ceremony held at the Atlanta, Mission, Class 29 had earned bragging rights that day, with the highest graduation rate of any ACSS class. Many of the graduates obtained employment prior to graduation and still had perfect attendance records.

In the weeks leading up to graduation, members of each ACSS class are taught job-related skills as well as proficiencies for obtaining employment, such as help with resumes and how to answer tough interview questions.

keynotefullIt was quickly apparent why Danny Tennial was nominated for Class President and chosen to speak at graduation. He was a vibrant and enthusiastic speaker, who both amused and captivated the audience.

He told the graduates, “If you can’t walk, crawl… If you can’t be the sun, be a star.”

He told them to carry an affirmation each day and repeat it, “We are powerful, ambitious, creative, determined.”

NoviembreKeynote speaker Maurice Novembre spoke humbly of his fall from grace. He worked in web design and media format for SDK International and had credits in the movie Hope. He got involved in what he called some “unsavory women and activities” and two years later, at age 25, was living out of his car.

With the help of ACSS, and a couple of years of hard work and determination, he obtained employment in the mailroom for a company.

He said, “Your path is hard for a reason, and you should not have any sense of entitlement.”

graduatefullNovembre has no plans to stay in the mailroom. But he is working very hard while he is there and learning as much as he can about the organization.

His short-term goals include obtaining a management position in the organization. And his long-term goals include owning his own company. However, he does not want to be boss; he wants to be a leader.

The difference, Novembre said, is that “a boss is delegated and a leader is chosen by their peers.”

DanaAt the end of the graduation ceremony, Dana Johnson, CEO and president of ACSS, made closing remarks.

“Thank you for letting me work for you,” Johnson said. “We work as hard as we do because we believe in you.”

Past graduates of the ACSS program were recognized.

As only a witness to this graduation, and an ACSS volunteer, I was proud of these graduates who worked so hard to change their lives. Change is hard. It takes courage, determination and strength. From what I saw of Class 29, they have all of these things and so much more.

RallyACSS is always looking for more volunteers. You can make a difference to help change someone’s life, and volunteering makes you feel good! Please visit us online to learn more about volunteer opportunities with ACSS.

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Filed under ACSS Awards & Accomplishments, ACSS Programs, CareerWorks

Corporate Involvement with ACSS: It’s a Win-Win!

ACSScoaching11By Barbara Hughes/ACSS Volunteer

Do you remember the excitement and panic of your first (or most recent) job interview?  “What will the interviewer ask?”  “Did I do enough preparation?” “What should I wear?”  Do you recall the post-interview doubts and hopefulness?  “Should I send a thank you note?”  “Did I sound confident?”  “Did my resume tell my story?” On February 12th, it all came back to me when I was part of a corporate team, led by InterContinental Hotels Group and Hewlett-Packard, that worked with ACSS CareerWorks Class #28 to prepare for a job fair.

With additional support from AT&T, Elavon and Lexmark staff, we spent about two hours with a group of very enthusiastic and well-prepared job seekers – tweaking resumes and conducting mock interviews.

“I would hire him (or her),” was a common remark made during the interviews.  I agree.  Any one of our ACSS VIPs (Visionary Innovative Partners) would be an asset to a prospective employer.

The success of the morning session flowed both ways.  Our corporate team, as one member remarked, received much more than we gave.  Not only did we all come away with a profound sense of the talent that is available at ACSS, but we saw each other in a different way, as well.

ACSScoaching2In business, we talk a lot about “synergy,” where the sum is greater than the individual parts. Many teams aspire to this goal.  I’m told that the definition of synergy is “2+2=5.” Well, our synergy was at least a ten during our session with the ACSS VIPs.

And we all are looking forward to working with ACSS Business Development Director Gordon Ellis to come up with our next team-building event in about two months’ time.  Meanwhile, our new friends at AT&T are helping with gathering interview clothing for the ACSS Clothing Closet. And many of the IHG/HP team members have exchanged business cards with the VIPs to stay in touch.

Class #28, your new friends are pulling for you at the job fair!

And friends in the business community, if you’re looking for corporate team building opportunities or more information on corporate involvement, please contact Gordon Ellis, or Otis Hillsman, VP of Programs,

As someone on our team told me, “This beats bowling any day!”


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Happy New Year from ACSS!

Much to celebrate: ACSS clients, staff, board members and other friends gather for a holiday party back in mid-December.

Much to celebrate: ACSS clients, staff, board members and other friends gather for a holiday party back in mid-December.

Here at the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency it is indeed a happy New Year’s Eve, as we look back on some of the accomplishments you helped us achieve in 2012:

Our CareerWorks program graduated 335 individuals. These graduates completed a three week structured job readiness training program, created individualized career plans, and received customized job placement assistance.

Within 90 days of graduation, 230 CareerWorks graduates obtained full-time employment. Furthermore, our job retention rate after 180 days is more than 75 percent.

ACSS was awarded grants from the U.S. Department of Labor and several foundations to continue our work with homeless veterans. Since 2008, more than 530 homeless veterans have received training and support to help find employment and reintegrate into mainstream society.

Our Café 458 Life Stabilization Program reached a 70 percent disability benefits attainment rate for individuals who are unable to work due to mental illness and physical disabilities.

On behalf of the board, staff, volunteers and clients of the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency, we would like to thank YOU for your incredible support of ACSS and its mission to empower homeless individuals to achieve economic self-sufficiency and their ultimate potential to thrive in life. By offering your resources, time and dedication over the past year, you have helped change the lives of hundreds of men, women and veterans who are now on the path to employment, permanent housing, and a brighter future.

As we prepare to ring in the new year tonight, we hope that ACSS can continue to count on your support as we strive to break the cycle of homelessness in our community. If you have yet to make an annual gift this year or you would like to increase your giving, please consider making a donation today.

Thank you again for your support of ACSS and our programs. We send blessings to you and your family on behalf of those who have been, and will be, blessed by your kindness.

Best Wishes for a Fantastic 2013 from your friends at ACSS!

P.S. Please note, your 2012 tax-deductible donations must be postmarked by December 31st. We will accept 2012 donations electronically via our website until midnight on Monday, December 31st.

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Filed under ACSS Awards & Accomplishments, ACSS Programs, Cafe 458, CareerWorks

GA Gives Day Update: We’ve passed $1,000! How much can we raise tonight?

GA_GIVES_WEB_LogoCongratulations!!! We have just hit the $1,000 mark in donations for GA Gives Day!We are so grateful for supporters like YOU who believe in our mission of helping homeless individuals achieve economic self-sufficiency and their ultimate potential to thrive in life. THANK YOU for your continued support of ACSS!

As a reminder, GA Gives Day is a special online giving event aimed at raising as much money as possible in a 24-hour period to benefit nonprofits throughout the state who are doing extraordinary work to improve our communities.

By the end of the day, ACSS is hoping to raise at least $3,500… the dollar amount needed to sponsor one individual, most likely a veteran, who enrolls in our CareerWorks program.

This sponsorship will ensure that an individual who wants to work, and strives to become a productive citizen, can receive the support that he or she needs to fulfill his or her goals of obtaining full-time employment and securing stable housing. Let’s help this individual join the 200+ others who ACSS has helped get employed this year!

Your support of $10, $50, $100 or more will help us reach our GA Gives Day goal. Please consider making a donation to ACSS tonight! Click here to donate.

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ACSS Class 23 Equipped for Success

Graduates of Class #23 are career-ready thanks to ACSS CareerWorks training and some generous gifts from their keynote speaker.

After a powerful and moving speech, Jacqueline Plair-Rushin, director of global deployment and corporate services at InterContinental Hotels Group, presented each graduate with a gift consisting of a high quality rolling computer bag, professional folios and a WiFi-ready laptop computer. The graduates and audience were ecstatic!

Thanks, Jacque, for going above and beyond!

You too can help ACSS empower homeless individuals to reach their full potential to thrive in life! Take action here.

About CareerWorks: CareerWorks is an intense job-readiness and life skills program that prepares homeless individuals for permanent, full-time employment. Click here for details.

About Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency: ACSS is committed to breaking the cycle of homelessness in metro Atlanta and beyond. ACSS empowers homeless individuals to achieve economic self-sufficiency and their ultimate potential to thrive in life. Please visit our website at We’re also on Facebook and Twitter.





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