Word & Image 

Darryl West, 47: Unemployed, Volunteer

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"In chess, I have this saying, or maybe it’s a strategy. I never play a losing position. What that means is, if I know I’m not going to win that game, I’m going to stop right then and there. Not that I’m a quitter, but I’m going to live to fight another day. I was taught that it’s a war game. So, why more hostilities when you can go ahead and regroup and win? It gives respect to the opponent. It gives respect to the way things are. The economy is not as good in my hometown. So, I moved here to regroup.

"Why Richmond? That question gets asked of me all the time. The answer is that it’s better than being on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It’s a very, very rural area. I was a multimedia illustrator. What that is, is a cross between website design and actual art. They actually taught me how to draw in the Army. We are the ones doing PowerPoint presentations. Our nickname was the PowerPoint soldiers.

"Basically, I was called in for active duty. This was a job in the reserves. The contract changed when I came back, and I lost the job. I moved here in July. I was originally going to go down to Norfolk because of the strong military presence. But I had my ride take me to Richmond, and that was it. I would say that my chances of getting a job in Richmond are much better than in my own town. I had to move somewhere. I couldn’t stay in Maryland.

"Then I was a driver-janitor. I would drive to one of the major chains like Auto Zone and go in there and clean the carpet. I was only working three days a week for $500. But I was OK doing that. I’d put myself through school doing that. But I couldn’t find a job doing what I wanted. Not on the Eastern Shore. There are just no industries there. So, here I am in Richmond.

"Right now we’re at Hilltop Promises [a nonprofit thrift store and job-services center]. We set up computers so that people who don’t have computers at home, or Internet at home, can use these facilities to find jobs online. But you have to help them. You have to help them with their résumés and applying to things online and to put in the data because they’re not necessarily computer savvy.

"Basically, when I first got here — you know, to be quite frank with you, I stayed at the emergency shelter over here in the neighborhood. And as part of the program, I came by here to see what services they had to offer. I came to use the computers. I was [asked] to volunteer. [Associate Executive Director Robert] Humphrey asked me what could I do, what I wanted to do, and I said computers because I’m very computer literate.

"I’m here every Saturday, and when I don’t have anything to do for my job searches, or when I need to do some job searches, I just come here and pitch in; nothing written in stone. I don’t get paid for this. But it’s better than running the streets.

"I am at this point 75-percent confident in my chances of getting a job in Richmond. I thought the area was growing. I really didn’t know. People say it’s not. I moved here and then found out that the real reason Richmond isn’t growing is because the tobacco industry pulled out. A lot of people think it’s bad, but the way I look at it, the city, the economy is just adjusting. Everything is adjusting right now.

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