In my work as a career counselor, I hear stories of people struggling to make meaning of their work lives. I have been working for over 20 years to help individuals clarify their focus and direction, and to uncover perceived barriers that make it difficult to move forward. The stories that clients share uplift me and I am humbled to hear them.
Over the years, I have noticed changes in the world where I practice career counseling. I have noticed that not all barriers are internally driven, and many are connected to a larger structure that makes it hard for individuals to find work, make a living, and live a life that they imagined. The barriers can feel overwhelming, and create great distress and hopelessness for people.
I have noticed changes outside the world where I practice career counseling. A few years back, I attended a conference for my professional association, and learned of the unfair employment practices at the hotel where I was staying. I heard about unfair employment practices going on with domestic workers who were working in my community. I noticed nursing home employees being exploited and underpaid.
I also began to notice a change in me. How can an individual feel more empowered to take action against a system that acts like it has no interest in them? How can I help make a difference in what I am noticing, not only with my clients, but also for others who are struggling to be economically self-sufficient?
In my own upbringing as a Jewish girl in the south whose parents were transplants from New York, I grew up hearing all kinds of messages being sent about gender, religion, and work. As the daughter of a father who sold the Daily Worker on the streets of New York, and whose widowed grandmother was a shop steward in the garment factory where she worked to support her two children, I learned about the dignity of work and the importance of education. Deciding to be a counselor was my way of making a difference, and of making sure the voice of the individual was heard.
That still continues to be an important role that I play, but there is more that I notice that is reminding me of a larger part of the story that needs to be told, a louder voice that needs to be heard.
The New England Jewish Labor Committee (NE JLC) has been a vehicle that has allowed me to align myself with my strong Jewish upbringing and values, to participate in changing structures that work against the worker, and to make sure all voices are at the table.
My work with JLC started as a result of the Hyatt 100 firings in Boston in August 2009, when my congregation and my professional association were on opposite sides of the issue, and I knew I had to take a stand. I took that stand against the policies of my professional association with the support of NE JLC and with a group of other career professionals who were also tired of seeing the worker marginalized. Since then, I have been involved and learned a great deal about campaigns in support of hotel workers, temporary workers, and domestic workers. I have held house meetings, attended protests, community meetings, and legislative hearings, and I have signed petitions and written testimony in support of workers. I work to educate those with whom I come in contact about worker rights, and advocate for those who do not yet have the privileges and access that we all should enjoy.
I am proud to say that my husband and I have handed down the values that our parents instilled in us, and that their parents instilled in them, and our children work for justice and fairness in their own lives. I am also proud to be a Jewish woman who supports workers from many different angles.
Amy Mazur is a Career Development Specialist and Counselor Educator in Greater Boston, who assists individuals to begin, renew and advance their careers, while reflecting on the meaning of work and how they want it represented in their lives. Her expertise also includes educating, training and mentoring professionals in career and workforce development on using counseling skills to foster growth and change. Amy also continues to grow and change herself.