Among the job seekers in the room, the same sentiment and phrase kept coming up, “All I need is a chance.”
“If you’re willing to teach, I’m willing to learn,” one of them added, addressing a representative of a local plumbing company.
The men and a few women made their pleas at a job fair held last week in Park Heights that attracted about 120 participants.
Many spoke of their struggles to find work in the Baltimore area despite a criminal record or other issues. And many came away from the event with big smiles, hugging and high-fiving.
“Everyone is giving us confidence and treating us with respect despite our past mistakes,” said Brennen Clark, who landed a construction cleanup job. “They’re not judgmental. Some people see us and only see our mistakes, but not here.”
Clark and another city resident, Tazon Foster, both 26 year olds, had come to the fair from a recovery house where they have been living.
Both told The Brew they were grateful for the chance to pitch themselves to construction firms and other employers that are open to giving people like them a shot.
“We just motivated to work and get back to making an honest living and paying some bills,” Foster said. “I done been to rehab and I’m ready to work. All I need is that second chance, and I promise I’ll be ready.”
As in Clark’s case, Foster found what he was looking for. He secured multiple job interviews at the fair, one scheduled for the next day.
A Living Wage
Members of the group that organized the fair, the Pimlico Terrace Neighborhood Association, said they see the event as an important way to support youth in historically underserved northwest Baltimore and prevent them from turning to street life and, potentially, crime.
For the companies participating, it’s a chance to show good will.
“What better way to give back to the community you’re building in than through jobs,” said Association President Steven Johnson.
Johnson gestured with pride to the meeting room where the event was held, in the headquarters of Sisters Saving the City on Pimlico Road.
An array of employers seeking window installers, laborers, commercial truck drivers, electricians and others had set up tables and were engaging with potential hires.
“Please dress in khaki or black pants and a polo or button-down-type shirt,” ads for the event advised. Most participants followed the advice.
“We see a plethora of young men standing outside, day in and day out,” Johnson said. “We want to provide them with a skill or something to do so that they can be able to earn a living wage and be able to provide for themselves and their families without having to always look over their shoulders to stay out of trouble or away from the police.”
According to Johnson, the Job Fair and Construction Training Resource Fair grew out of one of the group’s’ priorities, to promote local hiring.
He said he and other members were able work with companies overseeing construction projects in the area, such as the Renaissance Row Apartments, to make sure they prioritized some of the construction and cleanup jobs for Park Heights-area residents.
A representative from a contractor working on that project, Commercial Construction, said the company is committed to hiring locally for this project and any others the Hanover-based firm takes on.
“We always want to make sure that when we go into communities, if there are opportunities on a project, we expose people to these opportunities,” said Alana Theard, Commercial’s diversity business liaison.
“Being born and raised in Baltimore, I take pride in providing opportunities for people in my community trying to learn and grow” – Lindsey Johnson, L&J Waste Recycling.
“The community is our base, so we want to make sure not only are we helping build this community, but uplift the people of this community as well through jobs, training and other opportunities,” said Gary Matthews, Commercial’s director of safety and community outreach.
Another employer said his company’s local roots made him happy to be participating in the event.
“Being born and raised in Baltimore, I take pride in hiring and providing second opportunities for people in my community trying to learn and grow,” said Lindsey Johnson, co-owner of L&J Waste Recycling.
Association member Ashley Johnson echoed that sentiment. “This is what community is all about. We need this everywhere, not just in Baltimore.”