Friday, January 30, 2009

An Opportunity for Employment

When nearly 40 participants from the Midtown Community Court’s job training programs met to commemorate their successes in career development, one alumnus had some special, encouraging words for his peers. Former Times Square Ink client Russell Brown, also a graduate of the court’s Dads United for Parenting program, recalled his background, including criminal convictions, drug abuse and losing custody of his daughter. “Don’t give up, this program helped me tremendously,” Russell told them. “Before I was doing nothing, but now I’m working and I’ve got my daughter back.”

Amid this struggling economy, the Midtown Community Court continues to make strides in helping impoverished New Yorkers find jobs. On Thursday evening, the Court’s workforce development clients - both current participants and alumni - reported to the 3rd floor of the courthouse and were saluted for their achievements. In the same classroom where only months before many of them did not known how to use a computer, the honorees were recognized for not only finding jobs, but keeping them. As New York City’s unemployment rate reached a staggering 7.4 percent in December 2008 (up from 6.3 percent in November) and is expected to climb, it is increasingly difficult for the court to secure jobs for its ex-offenders. But despite these challenging times, the court has still found ways to celebrate success. So how does this happen?

Like Russell, adults in the Times Square Ink program present a myriad of social issues and criminal histories which clearly serve as barriers to employment. Beyond that, they also lack the job skills necessary to compete it today’s insecure job market. But after weeks of intensive computer skills training, resume writing, mock interviewing, clinical counseling and one-on-one job development, Times Square Ink clients begin a rigorous schedule of interviewing thanks to the network of nearly 50 employers working with the court. Such businesses as UPS, Barnes and Nobles, Food Emporium, Action Carting, and CBI Staffing come to the court for weekly employer panels where they speak to Times Square Ink clients about what they are looking for in an employee, conduct onsite interviews, and have their choice of newly qualified candidates to select from while receiving tax credits for providing work opportunities. Looking back, it’s hard to believe Russell would ever find a job in this economy. But he has, and he’s thriving in a maintenance position at the Bowery Residence Committee.

Graduates of Times Square Youth also had much to celebrate Thursday night as they were recognized for such achievements as passing the GED exam and finding a job. Participants in Times Square youth also undergo training on job searching, interviewing practices, positive work habits and computer training.

After getting arrested, Darren was referred to Times Square Youth in November 2008. “They helped me get into UPS,” he told the group. Remarkably, Darren was only hired for seasonal employment, but because of his etiquette and performance Darren has retained employment with UPS on a full-time basis.

As the evening came to a close, Ife Charles, the keynote speaker and deputy director of the Crown Heights Mediation Center, offered motivational advice to those that have yet to enter the workforce. “Time is precious, so use it wisely,” Ife told them. “To get a job you have to get the skills that you need, and then go out there and get it.”