More than 150 people in the capital area got up and went to work today thanks to Lisa Parker. And chances are they weren’t just walking in the door to punch a clock and get a paycheck, because when Parker helps someone land a gig, it’s typically doing something they are passionate about. What’s more is Parker helped people land these jobs expecting nothing in return. “There were so many people who needed help,” she said. “I slip into solutions mode … (Helping people find employment) is something very intimate to be involved in … I feel honored to be trusted.” Parker’s path to helping people find careers that are right for them started in a somewhat usual place — a science lab. Originally from Cassopolis, Mich., Parker, attended Michigan State University (MSU) to study bio-chemistry and graduated in 1990 from MSU’s med-tech program. After graduation Parker moved to the Detroit area where she completed her clinical rotation at Detroit Medical Center during 20-hour weekend shifts. Not one to miss an opportunity to work, she spent her weekdays temping in an office. When she was offered week-day shifts at the hospital, Parker realized that she would rather be spending time at her office job. Knowing she couldn’t turn down a position at the hospital for a $10-an-hour temp job, Parker decided to join the company she was temping at full-time, and in 1996 accepted a position as a recruiter. Parker spent seven years with that company working in Detroit, Lansing and Dallas. When the Lone Star State didn’t seem like the right place to call home, Parker began looking for a change. As a recruiter, Parker said she sought out places where unemployment was high. At the time the Baltimore, Md., DC area seemed like a good move. And one day when she spotted a vegetable display at a local florist, Parker’s sights on the DC area became even stronger. The display reminded her of her long-lost college friend Steve and the Ecuttel plant he had given her. When Parker’s cat destroyed the plant she went to florists all over town trying to find a replacement, but no one had heard of the species. Eventually Steve had to confess — the plant was just lettuce (ecuttel is lettuce spelled backward). That memory — along with the memory of a poem Steve had written Parker — stuck with her. And although the two had lost touch, Parker reached out. Using her MSU Student Directory, Parker wrote to Steve through his mother. Steve and Parker started talking again and soon enough met up for a date at El Azteco in downtown East Lansing. Eventually Parker made the move to the DC area and when the company she worked for started to fold, she began her own recruiting firm. Things were good for Parker until her stepfather passed away suddenly from cancer. “During that time Steve was there,” said Parker. Their relationship began to bloom and Steve popped the question in 2004. The two married a month later. “We got married at a court house because we are both cheap,” said Parker laughing. The entire event, including the pancake breakfast that followed, cost only $60. Soon after the couple welcomed their daughter Olivia, 6, and two years later their son David, 4. Although they enjoyed their life in the DC area, they started to consider a move back to Michigan when their young children began referring to their neighbors as aunt and uncle. Relocating to the Lansing area felt like coming home for the two Spartans, and in 2008 they made the move to Okemos — Steve with plans to work from home and Parker with plans to be a stay-at-home mom. But fate had other plans. “I wasn’t really good at the play group scene,” said Parker, a natural people connector. Parker was meeting people who needed jobs or knew people who needed jobs. “I was always interested in people,” she said. And she loves to give advice. “I never say ‘no’ to giving my two cents,” said Parker. “I’ll give you 20 … I can talk a blue streak.” Given her background and ability to offer help, those job seekers began to ask Parker to coffee, but Parker, who prefers mocha lattes, started to gain weight, so she decided to create a job seekers group. “I could see the pain and anger and fear,” she said. “We were hearing so much about these lazy people … I didn’t meet these people.” The job seekers group was a success and in 2009 Parker began working — on a volunteer bases — with the Capital Area Michigan Works team to connect people with jobs. Along with CAMW Parker used social media to make connections — including what turned out to be valuable relationships with folks at the MSU Alumni Association. Because Parker wasn’t being paid for the work she was doing, people opened up to her and businesses trusted her judgment. “People didn’t have to doubt my motives,” she said. During a bad economic time in 2008, Parker became an integral part in getting people in the capital area back to work. “I’m the girl (you come to) when you have a reasonable idea of what you want to do and you need to move quickly,” said Parker. Working with people who had mortgages to pay, Parker said she offered attitude adjustments along with career advice. People she was working with were overwhelmed by what they were hearing the Michigan job scene was like, so Parker put things in perspective. “It’s all about perception,” she said. She helped people to see that while there might be 500,000 unemployed people in the state, there were only 40 people in the job seekers group and there were jobs for those 40 people. Parker said given her lab experience — where you do every test expecting a positive outcome — she wouldn’t let her job seekers think negatively. “I was anticipating a potential positive,” she said. In an unexpected turn of events, Parker ended up landing herself a gig while she helped others do the same and today she serves as the director of alumni career and business services with the MSU Alumni Association. “I’m still helping people,” said Parker. In her new role Parker has definite goals. “I want to take alumni and find useful ways to plug them into campus or connect them to other alumnus in a mentoring capacity,” she said. She also wants to help educate the 45 year old and up group on job seeking. She plans to help them answer the question: “How can I figure out where I need to grow to stay relevant?” And most of all — although a huge supporter of social media — Parker wants to see people meeting in a more face to face capacity. “We’ve lost the chance to experience individuals,” she said. “What can we keep doing to allow people to collide with each other more?” For every bit of anxiety and stress Parker has seen in the job seekers she has helped, she has also been witness to jobs landed, a few dates landed (turns out job seeking groups are sometimes a good place to meet singles) and enough thank you coffee gift cards to last a lifetime. “I have faith in the recovery of this area,” she said.
Emily Caswell is the Managing Editor of CAWLM. She has a passion for fun, family, friends, shopping sprees, cold drinks and Lansing.