Andrew Michails was watching the news with his six year old daughter when a feature story about a couple on the near North side came on. Every Thanksgiving, the pair loaded their van with coffee, hats, gloves and scarves and went to Lower Wacker to help the homeless. He recalls, “My daughter looked at me and said ‘Daddy, I want to do that.’”
At the time, it was so close to Thanksgiving that the organizations Andrew contacted had plenty of volunteers and were requesting money instead of help. He kept digging until he found a now-defunct nonprofit that needed help teaching job-seeking men and women how to interview. Putting his sales background to use, Andrew created a two-hour session on interviewing skills, contacted the nonprofit and said, “I’m ready. Send me somewhere.”
One of the first times Andrew conducted the training took place in a small room teaching five men, while children watched a blaring TV in the background. He didn’t think the class was successful, but as he turned to leave, the men said, “Where do you think you’re going? That was great, but we need more.”
Shortly after this experience, Andrew met Inner Voice founder Reverend Johnson, and volunteered to teach classes at Inner Voice. He developed a more robust training program, expanding to three-stage courses, then to five and eventually to 10 stages encompassing forty hours. “We ran our programs down in the basement of the Inner Voice’s old place at the corner of Lake and Ashland,” Andrew recalls. “It got to a point where I was there more often than I was not. After about six months Rev. Johnson came to me and said, ‘You can’t do this anymore. You’re spending too much time. We’re going to have to pay you.’ We worked on nothing more than a handshake the whole time he was alive. From those humble beginnings, we grew to run 30-35 programs a year for a number of different groups that came to Inner Voice for help, whether it be housing, jobs, or case management.“
In 1986, Andrew founded Operation H.E.L.P., Inc., a network of consultants who provide training, coaching and mentoring in the employment field through job readiness seminars, job development and job placement. His clients have included St. Leonard’s Ministries, Inspiration Corp., R.E.S.T., Stateway Gardens and Veterans’ New Beginnings. Andrew has worked with Inner Voice for more than 30 years, providing job skills training to thousands of women and men. He currently conducts a monthly three-day job readiness seminar for Inner Voice’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. The highlight of the training, Andrew says, is the mock interview, in which participants are recorded and receive feedback from their classmates.
Andrew describes one Inner Voice client who went through the job training program: “Bob was down and out on his luck. He had a very poor self-image. He went through the program and he really got it. First, he would keep in touch with us on a weekly basis. He got a job, everything was working well, and then I didn’t hear from him for a couple of months. I was a little worried. Several months later, he called me from Kansas City, to tell me he’d moved down there, gotten a job, and was looking at getting permanent housing. Last time I heard from Bob, he had a place to live, his first new car, a girlfriend and a child.”
Andrew tells the women and men in his classes, “Each of us has a bank account. Its name is TIME. Every morning, it credits us with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever time you failed to invest to a good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. There is no going back, no drawing against tomorrow. Invest wisely. The clock is running. Make the most of today.”