Organizations have been working to help the 261 employees who have been laid off from Eastern by helping them with resumes, financial help and more.
One of these organizations is Support EIU Employees, which was started by Andy Eggers, president of the group and a cook at Stevenson Dining Hall.
Support EIU Employees wants to be able to help laid off people who may have a car payment, a kid with a chipped tooth, or other expenses. To do this, they will have those who need help come in and provide their bank statement, documentation of their mortgage and car payments, and have a board overlook these things and decide if they get a donation.
“Basically, if there’s a need, and we can fill that need, we’ll be happy to fill that need,” Eggers said.
Eggers said the group hopes to pay as much of the bill as they can, but the money for the relief fund will not be ready and set to open until around May 17 as they will need to see how much they get from FundFest and vote as a board on percentages and other factors.
Support EIU Employees has also had resume building workshops, and they are in the process of talking to Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center about having insurance counselors at FundFest to walk people through getting insurance and Medicare. Eggers said he came up with the idea for the group and several people liked it so they started meeting.
Although it was at first a small, unincorporated group of people, Support EIU Employees soon realized they wanted to become a non-profit.
After the first layoffs in summer, a lot of people on campus were upset and they noticed it seemed like everyone was “going about our daily business,” Eggers said.
“(It was like) all these people got laid off but then, ‘Well, they got laid off, let’s move on to next week,’” he said. “There’s these people who have kids in public schools, some of them are getting ready to have babies right after they got laid off.”
Eggers said after coming back the Monday after people were laid off, everyone came back to “empty chairs, (and) double duties” and they wanted to bolster support for these employees.
“We lost people who had 20 years here,” Eggers said. “If you look at that, they probably put more time here at Eastern than they did with their family, than they did sleeping. They’re not trash. I don’t think we should just throw them away.”
Eggers made the group because he had friends who were laid off in the first and second rounds of layoffs.
Aaron DeRousse, also a cook at Stevenson and vice president of Support EIU Employees, said he joined because he was born and raised in Charleston, he had friends who worked at Eastern, and his grandmother retired from Eastern.
He said there was no better way to help than to get involved with Support EIU Employees.
While they are planning on having more events, right now they are trying to get through FundFest, DeRousse said.
Members of Fund EIU gave Support EIU Employees some information on becoming a non-profit, and they are in the process of setting up a relief fund through fundraising and donations, including FundFest on April 30.
To set up the relief fund, they have looked at other organizations who have set up relief funds and wrote out the idea to make one and found relief applications from Catholic charities and adjusted them to the people they are trying to give relief fund money too.
“We’re trying to prop up the laid off individuals in any way we can,” Eggers said.
Eggers said people have been supportive, such as churches who have reached out to help, and others who have donated.
“We realized at this point it was bigger than our own little non-profit,” Eggers said. “It’s a statewide discussion.”
Eggers has reached out and talked to people at Chicago State University, Western, Northern, Parkland, and Lake Land Colleges.
“When you add it up, we’re sitting at over 1,000 layoffs in the state,” Eggers said. “We wanted to become a voice for all of these people.”
So far, Support EIU Employees has received donations from Pilson Auto Center and the University Professionals of Illinois, and companies have given financial support to the relief fund and selling auction items.
“We are getting a lot of outside support in the community,” DeRousse said. “It’s very overwhelming to see our community getting together so quickly.”
Though he is overwhelmed, DeRousse said he is not surprised by this support.
“I’ve lived in Charleston all my life,” DeRousse said. “There’re a lot of great people in Charleston.”
Some employees have individually given over $200 to Support EIU Employees.
Those who want to volunteer or donate can sign up on the Support EIU Employees website, www.supporteiuemployees.org, or on Facebook.
“In the beginning of all this, there were all these little flickers in the dark of people that were upset and angry,” Eggers said. “‘What we did was take those flickers and make a bonfire out of them.”
The Local Workforce Innovation Area 23 is another organization laid off employees have gone to for help in finding jobs or skills.
Gerry Schlechte, director of Workforce Investment for Workforce Innovation Area 23, said they usually like to work with companies or organizations and come in and meet with people before they are laid off.
Schlechte said sometimes with these organizations this does not work out, such as with Eastern, so people who are affected by the layoffs have been showing up individually to meet with case managers, who determines their interests and see what it takes to get them re-employed as fast as possible such as helping with resumes and other vocational skills. These case managers also help laid off employees upgrade their skills, give them classroom training and help those who need it with childcare and transportation.
“Every person is different, so what they qualify for is different,” Schlechte said. “As affected employees come in here, we will assess where they’re at, what they need.”
Some people already have qualifications and for them, the Workforce Investment Board will help them search for jobs and give them access to computers and job search postings.
Though they can only help people find jobs that are in demand in the area, the Workforce Investment Board is able to help people find the skills they need for these jobs.
“Our job is basically getting people who have been laid off back in the workforce as fast as possible,” Schlechte said.
Cassie Buchman can be reached a t 581-2812 or [email protected]