Jessica Freeman, 27, roamed around the Merced County Job Fair on Wednesday, looking for work because she wants to turn her life around after having problems with drugs.
Freeman moved to Merced from Atwater two months ago. By the time she left the fair, she had an interview with Panda Express restaurant lined up.
She had started a career in criminal justice through an online college before she fell into a downward spiral with drugs. Now she's getting help through Next Step Recovery in Merced and is excited about gainful employment.
She hopes to launch her criminal justice career by finishing her degree at Merced College. Last year — after six years of sobriety — Freeman suffered a six-month relapse into drugs. As a result, she lost custody of her children, which she called "a wake-up call."
Event organizers estimated that more than 400 people showed up at the American Legion Hall on Wednesday morning to fill out job applications for Goodwill, Park Merced Assisted Living, the U.S. Army, UC Merced, Worknet, Mercy Medical Center and others at tables set up in the room.
The event was organized by One Step Forward, a committee made up of AARP Worksearch Foundation and state Employment Development Department officials.
June Osborn, who was in charge of the event and is a member of the committee, said they hope to put on another job fair in the spring.
It's the first time the job fair has been organized by the nonprofit and the state agency.
Laquita Richardson, 25, and Leanne Sapien, 26, were also at the job fair. Sapien said she already had a restaurant job but wanted to get a job that didn't involve food. "I thought I'd check it out," said Sapien, who has worked in the restaurant business for eight years. She's looking for an office job.
At least 200 people had picked up guides on applying for jobs at Mercy Medical Center at the hospital's table Wednesday, according to Victoria Baer, human resources technician. "A lot of people have asked what type of positions we're hiring for," said Baer. "It's been a really good turnout."
Freeman said the event represented a solid opportunity for people to apply for jobs. "Even if it's a job at McDonald's, it's a job for me," she said outside the American Legion Hall. "It's kind of a miracle for me, and I'm really excited about it."
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.