The March 15 Summit provided attendees with a progress update from Westside Works partners who shared insights on how their unique collaboration is connecting Westside residents with job opportunities. The presentation was part of a continuing series to highlight some of the Westside-based community partners who are beneficiaries of the Beloved Benefit, which took place March 21. Past presenters have included the Grove Park Foundation and City of Refuge.
Frank Fernandez opened the discussion by sharing the history of Westside Works, which is focused on creating employment opportunities and job training for residents of Vine City, English Avenue, Castleberry Hill and other Westside neighborhoods. Westside Works is a partnership among Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA), Integrity Community Development Corporation (Integrity CDC), Per Scholas, Invest Atlanta, Metro Atlanta YMCA, The Arthur M. Blank Foundation and Atlanta Workforce Development Agency. Currently, Integrity CDC is the managing partner of Westside Works. In the future, it will be community-run to better reflect its mission.
“One of the themes we touched on (during the devotion) is human dignity and this foundation of economic justice that is part of the community. And that really is the genesis of what Westside Works is all about – how can we connect folks to job opportunities,” Fernandez said. “Folks want to have access to the opportunity for a job that allows them to take care of themselves and their families. That’s where (Westside Works) started.”
The collaboration to support Westside residents with employment opportunities began almost five years ago. Westside Works partners offer training and placement programs for: childhood development associate (CDA) training, construction, certified nursing assistant (CNA) certification, education, culinary training, office operations and information technology.
“Since its inception about four and a half years ago, 700 folks from the Westside have been put to work in living wages jobs in different industries, which translates to about $20 million in wages for themselves and their families. That is a great starting point … because as prices go up, we have to help folks’ income go up. That’s a big part of what we’re focused on,” Fernandez explained. He went on to say there has to be a level of trust between the organization and the residents it’s helping. “We wouldn’t be here if the community didn’t trust us,” said Fernandez.
Integrity CDC Stimulates Holistic Community Development
Next, Rev. Howard Beckham talked about how his role at Integrity CDC intersects with his experiences as a Westside resident and a pastor at New Jerusalem Baptist Church. “I talk from many different perspectives when I begin to share about the Westside. When I consider Integrity CDC’s role as the managing partner, that is huge for us because we understand we wouldn’t be where we are if the community didn’t trust us to hold this position,” Beckham explained. “We take this role very seriously because we know that a lot is on our shoulders, a lot of responsibility as it relates to the sustainability, the effectiveness and the success of Westside Works.”
Beckham went on to say that Integrity CDC’s role in Westside Works is unique, both managing the program and the recruitment and intake process. “I’m very proud of the work we’re doing at Westside Works, not only because of the numbers and the jobs but because of the impact I’ve seen that Westside Works has had upon the community,” Beckham said. “As a resident, I’ve seen it firsthand. I’ve seen the hope that it’s put in the eyes of the residents of our community, and that is very important. It’s also helped to dispel some of the myths about our residents. Westside Works has proven that if you provide adequate resources and opportunities, our communities and the organizations on the Westside will thrive.”
Levy Restaurants Provides Path to Culinary Careers
Next on stage was Chef Juliet Peters, leader of the culinary training program at the West Nest concession stand located in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Peters shared how she plans to incorporate more nutritional education into the culinary program in the future. “Nutrition is a topic we aren’t discussing enough. There is an opportunity to push those boundaries a bit when we talk about healthy body, mind and soul,” Peters said. “Healthy mind with the education being offered. Healthy soul through faith. But healthy body? That comes through nutrition. That’s where I feel I have tremendous responsibility.”
Peters recognized that nutrition is becoming increasingly important for her culinary students, as well. She said, “Students semester-to-semester are getting more involved in understanding (nutrition). What does a plant-based diet mean? Where are we getting our food from, how are we sourcing our food and how are we growing our food?” Peters explained that there is also a garden at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that makes education around nutrition possible.
Per Scholas Launches IT Careers
Jasmine Miller was introduced next. She opened by sharing about Per Scholas, a national nonprofit that provides tuition-free technology training to unemployed or underemployed adults for careers as IT professionals. As the managing director of Per Scholas in Atlanta, Miller’s goal is to positively impact Atlanta’s Westside communities. “We work hard to help individuals build a pipeline into the tech industry, because there are so many opportunities out there, but our communities are not really getting access to those opportunities,” Miller explained. “It’s our goal to impact that community. A big focus of Per Scholas is to diversify the tech industry, so we focus on veterans, women and people of color to give them the skills to move into the IT industry.”
Once individuals are trained, Per Scholas collaborates with the tech industry to place students in jobs. “We look for individuals who are motivated and want to be in the tech industry, and then we match them with the right opportunity. We’ve been here in Atlanta for only three years, and in three years we have trained over 300 individuals. This year alone, we are looking to impact and train close to 200 individuals.” Miller continues, “Our success rate is really high. We have 86 percent of our folks who complete training and then 80 percent move to work. We always look at the end goal: how do we make sure we’re putting people to work in a meaningful job?”
Per Scholas also offers certifications in Microsoft Office, A+, Net+ and web development. The programs range from 10 to 17 weeks.
Construction Ready Helps Students Pursue Construction Careers
Scott Shelar with Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) concluded the panel by sharing about the Construction Ready program. By partnering with construction companies, trade associations, the Technical College System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Education, Construction Ready supports training programs for careers in construction. With construction continuing to boom in Atlanta, Shelar sees the opportunity to pair individuals who seek construction careers with even more opportunities. For example, Construction Ready students played a major role in the building of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “We have a 95.2 percent placement rate. We take a little bit of credit for that, but the real credit goes to the fact that Atlanta is booming,” he said. “There are so many construction projects being built in our city. We’re busier than we’ve ever been in the history of our city … and that’s going to continue for many years to come.”
Construction Ready was born on the Westside and, because of its success, CEFGA sees Construction Ready as a template for success in other communities. In discussing the future of Construction Ready, Shelar said, “We’ve expanded to four other locations outside metro Atlanta, and we now serve 10 metro Atlanta counties. We have a vision to take this nationwide.”
In conclusion, Shelar explained what he believes to be the “secret sauce” to Westside Works: the collaboration. He said, “We don’t have just one organization trying to do it all themselves. It’s a partnership.”
Additional Summit Highlights & Updates
To date, Westside Future Fund’s Anti-Displacement Tax Fund Program has enrolled 93 homeowners. The deadline to apply for this year’s program is March 31, 2019.
Summit attendees who are current residents of the Westside or who work for a nonprofit serving Westside neighborhoods have a chance to win a $50 gift card from The Home Depot. Congratulations to Westside resident Howard Rowe, the March 15 raffle winner.
All Westside residents at the Summit were eligible to win two tickets to the Beloved Benefit. The March 15 raffle winner was Donya Washington. Congratulations Donya!
Devotion by Westside Resident Makeda Johnson
The Summit’s morning devotion was led by Makeda Johnson, a legacy resident from the historic Vine City and English Avenue communities. Her devotion focused on how a moral transformation is needed before a community transformation can take place. “The goal is to arrive at a Beloved Community … where there is brotherhood and sisterhood and love. A Beloved Community calls for the elimination of economic and social barriers that sometimes silently and unintentionally promote racism and inequality, marginalization and suppression of the very individuals that some might seek to help,” Makeda explained.
Watch the entire Summit presentation by viewing the below video.
Opening Devotion: Makeda Johnson Historic Vine City and English Avenue Communities; Director and Founder of Sisters Action Team, Inc. (SAT) Women Empowerment Network; Founder and Managing Editor, Historic Westside News Featured Presentation: Westside Works Presented by Westside Works Partners: Reverend Howard Beckham, CEO, Integrity Transformations Community Development Corporation Frank Fernandez, VP of Community Development, Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Jasmine Miller, Managing Director, Atlanta Per Scholas Juliet Peters, Director of Culinary Education, Levy Restaurants Scott Shelar, President & CEO, Construction Education Foundation of Georgia