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America Works finds jobs despite the odds

City Human Resources Administration Commissioner Robert Doar (l.) and City Councilman Leroy Comrie cut the ribbon on the new America Works office in Jamaica. Photo courtesy Leroy Comrie
TimesLedger Newspapers

Dean Banks had been looking for steady work for 10 years.

The 58-year-old from Springfield Gardens said since his criminal record precluded him from finding viable work, the best he could do was selling bootleg T-shirts outside concerts.

“You know, I tried getting jobs on my own while I was out there,” he said, explaining he refused to apply for public assistance because he was ashamed. “But you know, sometimes you have to ask for help in order to get help.”

When Banks finally swallowed his pride and asked for help from the city Human Resources Administration, he was referred to America Works, the job-placement contractor that recently opened an office in downtown Jamaica.

Soon thereafter, the company found him a job in New Jersey with a liquor distributor.

“Two weeks, two weeks it took the help I was looking for and found to get me a job,” he said last week at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new office.

“It pays what it pays, but the most important thing is I’m self-sufficient. I don’t have to ask nobody for nothing,” he said. “And I love that fact because it makes me feel better as a man, makes me feel better as a human.”

America Works, which has several offices across the city, including one in Far Rockaway, receives city and federal contracts to help find jobs for hard-to-place individuals, such as those on public assistance, military veterans, youths aging out of foster care and people living with HIV/AIDS.

The company found jobs for 85,000 people last year, making it the highest-performing of HRA’s six contractors, and has set a goal of increasing that number by 3.5 percent in 2012.

Chief Executive Officer Lee Bowes said the company has a list of 7,000 employers in the metro area.

“One employer has hired 40 people from us already, which is amazing,” she said.

The company helps job seekers with résumés and interview skills and sets them up with employers, but goes far beyond.

Bowes said America Works provides free MetroCards for a few months, can help find housing and provides clothing.

And the partnership with Cornell University provides substance abuse counseling.

David Perez, who runs a security firm, said he likes hiring from America Works because the company does pre-screening.

“They pretty much do all the footwork for you,” he said. “It makes the hiring process go a lot smoother.”

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) helped cut the ribbon on the new office, at 88-11 165th St., and said the company will be receiving many referrals from his office.

“It sounds to me even more than putting them on a working path it’s changing their mindset to a mindset of success,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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