Rachea loves to be in the kitchen. After the Italian restaurant where he worked for nearly five years went out of business two years ago, this single dad supported himself and his five-year-old daughter, Samantha, with unemployment benefits while he looked for work. Just a few months before his benefits ran out, he came upon BronxWorks Jobs-Plus staff doing outreach in his public housing complex. When he learned that enrolling with Jobs-Plus meant he could earn his GED and he’d receive intensive support in finding work, Rachea said, “Sign me up!”
The loss of a stable income was a frightening blow for Rachea. He had dropped out of high school in the 11th grade after a family crisis, so he and Jobs-Plus staff knew this would be a drawback to his job search in a difficult economy. He is passionately motivated to get a job and GED because of Samantha. Due to a complicated situation with her mother, Rachea is Samantha’s sole provider and he struggles in a world in which “Where’s her mom?” is a question he often hears when someone learns he is caring for her on his own.
While he pursued his goal of employment in the field he loves, food prep and cooking, Rachea wanted to be productive with all the free time he had and retain his skills, so he would frequently whip up batches of tiramisu and panna cotta which he sold to delighted friends and neighbors.
During this unsettling time in which he felt “like my world was crashing,” Rachea recalls that Jobs-Plus Case Manager Tiara Williams advised him to “take it step by step,” giving him skilled guidance essential for meeting his goals, listening to him vent, and motivating him to refocus when he suffered from a setback or unsuccessful interview.
The Jobs-Plus objective is to provide participants with the comprehensive resources and support needed to take steps on the path to success. In Rachea’s case, this included enrolling in a GED prep class, participating in resume and mock interview workshops, and getting transportation costs to interviews covered. He also received financial counseling, achieving milestones including setting up formal banking and a 529 college savings plan for Samantha, who just began kindergarten.
Rachea reached another milestone in February when Jobs-Plus helped him land not just any job, but his “dream” job – baking at a Jamaican restaurant. He acknowledges that it took him a few weeks to master the preparation of an entirely different cuisine, but after just a couple of months, the head chef is now talking about adding to Rachea’s responsibilities to include running the whole kitchen. He plans to take the GED test soon and is working toward acquiring his food handling credential, which will mean better job and financial security for him and Samantha.
Rachea’s ultimate milestone? Opening his own restaurant one day. When asked about the kind of food it would serve, he says he’d like to combine everything he’s learned about various types of food: Italian, Jamaican, desserts, and more! BronxWorks is helping him build his future, one milestone at a time. For now, Rachea is thrilled that he’s working in the field he loves, able to support the daughter he adores.
The BronxWorks Jobs-Plus program is a workforce development pilot program operating in three Bronx public housing developments, combining employment-related services, financial incentives, community support for work (i.e. opportunities for residents to promote work among their neighbors), and financial counseling. It is a partnership with the Center for Economic Opportunity, Social Innovation Fund, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and MRDC, and is being evaluated for its local and national policy implications.
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