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Giving the Gift of Work

Karole Shirley, Ordinary Hero

It's nice when your boss notices your work. It's even better when the CEO of your company notices. And it's even better still when the CEO raves about your work to the President of the United States.

Karole Shirley garnered that kind of attention.

Shirley, 26, started working for Manpower, Inc., a temporary-services firm that is the nation's largest private-sector employer, in September 1995. Originally hired as a service representative assistant, she became an ardent advocate for welfare recipients who wanted to work.

The Milwaukee central office is in a less-than-ritzy area on the outskirts of the downtown business district. The office had been looking to hire university students, but Shirley took a chance on the area's down-and-outers. As she interacted with men and women, young and old, she saw people struggling to survive. That's when something began to stir within this daughter of affluent Milwaukee parents.

"I got convicted of the Holy Spirit and I wanted to do something no matter what the consequences," she says.

Along with Manpower's effective training techniques, Shirley added a personal touch. She spent serious time with each client, helping them develop "soft skills"--the etiquette needed in the business world. She wrote resumes and lent needy clients money from her own pocket, activities that run counter to Manpower's official policies. At times, she borrowed from her parents to cover the personal loans she made to clients. She even invited some of them to her church, Christian Faith Fellowship.

Her compassion paid off, literally. People started coming in droves, and her office's net profits rose by 300 percent in one year. She recruited 80 clients from her own congregation alone, where she is referred to as "Sister Karole." Many of Shirley's recruits found full-time employment and became self-sufficient.

She worked hard, sometimes from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. the next morning, with no overtime pay. Late at night, Shirley would walk around the office and pray for her clients. In fact, she prayed all the time, asking God for wisdom. Romans 8:28--Shirley's favorite verse--was a constant reminder that "all things work together for good to them that love God." Her computer screensavers, customized with blended biblical phrases like, "I am more than a conqueror" and "All things are possible," also helped her focus on God's strength. ...

As a result of Shirley's success, Manpower will begin opening new offices around the country, focused on inner-city residents. Shirley's new role--along with a well-deserved promotion--is to help market the new locations and form strategic alliances with businesses.

Although she'll be moving on, Shirley will be taking great memories of her work at Milwaukee's central office with her. Take the story of James, for example. James moved to Milwaukee to live with his brother, but his brother's new girlfriend felt three was a crowd, so James went to a shelter. Eventually, he ended up on the streets, sleeping on a vent near Shirley's office. When Shirley learned about James, she quickly found him a job at a food-processing firm.

A few days later, on her desk, Shirley found a paper bag with a note. The bag contained raisins and candy bars. The note read, "I didn't have any money to buy you a card. I didn't have any money for flowers. But I gave you what I have. I just wanted to thank you."

Shirley says for her, "That was three years' worth of salary in two seconds."

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