Stimulus money goes to ‘work’
NHCAC offers assistance, job training with federal funds
by Lana Rose Diaz
Reporter staff writer
Oct 24, 2010 | 2538 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
OCCUPATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT – A few of the successful graduates of NHCAC’s job training program joined the press conference on Tuesday to share their achievements and were presented with certificates of Congressional Recognition. Pictured (from left to right): Nova Manalu, of North Bergen; Zaida Lorena Avila, of Union City; Matilde Rodriguez, of Union City; Stephanie Plumacher, of Secaucus, Yanet Gutierrez, of West New York.
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The federal government’s response to the economic recession has been to pour billions of taxpayer dollars into “bailouts” and “stimulus” programs, but many people are asking, “Where is all this money going?”

North Hudson Community Action Corporation (NHCAC) attempted to provide some answers to that question on Tuesday during a special press conference, attended by Rep. Albio Sires (D-13th), highlighting their efforts to use the stimulus money they received to better the community.

Created in 1965 as North Hudson Community Action Program, NHCAC provides health and human services across three counties in New Jersey, including health care, emergency food and shelter, transitional housing, and mental health and addiction services.
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“The goal is not to maintain people, it’s to move them forward.” – Rosemary Lavagnino
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According to NHCAC, Hudson County became the poorest county in New Jersey during the economic downturn and is also home to one of the poorest New Jersey municipalities, Union City.

To combat that poverty and strengthen the population, NHCAC took on various initiatives utilizing the millions in stimulus funds it received last year to serve residents all over Hudson County, from North Bergen to Hoboken.

“The goal is not to maintain people,” said Rosemary Lavagnino, director of the North Hudson Community Action Programs – a component of NHCAC. “It’s to move them forward.”

Some $1.54 million was used for homeless programs, employment training, addiction counseling and health screenings which led to over 200 people being placed in jobs and/or training programs, over 11,000 being served with free health screenings, and two licensed bilingual counselors and a support staff person hired to handle addiction services.

An additional $2.39 million was used for capital improvement projects, including the addition of a six-chair dental suite (which serves nearly 2,000 patients annually), purchase of medical and dental equipment, creation of a two-chair mobile dental van, and expansion of space and hours to serve more people.

But at the heart of a press conference on Oct. 19 was the direct effect the money has had on people served – particularly those who have been able to get back to work by utilizing the free job training programs offered through NHCAC during a time when a large percentage of the population remains unemployed.

Back to work

“North Hudson has been looking for ways to put people back to work,” said NHCAC President and CEO Christopher Irizarry, adding that he is grateful for the federal funds that made it possible for his organization to provide job training for the unemployed who are eager to work.

After receiving the federal funds in April 2009, NHCAC organized a job training program centered around careers currently in high demand such as medical billing and coding, medical assisting, and certified nurse assistant (CNA) programs.

Once in place, the effects on members of the community were immediate.

Union City resident Matilde Rodriguez had been laid off from her job and was searching for work for a year and a half prior to beginning a job training program through NHCAC.

With a background in accounting, Rodriguez decided to study medical billing and coding. She said the curriculum was intense at times, but all that hard work paid off in the end – Rodriguez graduated from the program in July and had a job in New York City by August.

“The school has a good program, good teachers,” said Rodriguez. “It was excellent. It helped me a lot [and] enhanced what I knew already.”

For Yanet Gutierrez, of West New York, the job training program offered an opportunity to continue on the career path that she had began years ago.

Gutierrez came to the United States 11 years ago from Cuba, where she had been studying in the medical field.

But without any experience stateside, she was unable to continue work in that field in her new home – until she encountered the NHCAC program.

Gutierrez studied to obtain her CNA certification and is now working at Hudsonview Health Care Center in North Bergen.

According to Rep. Albio Sires (D-13th), 3 million jobs nationwide have been saved using stimulus funds. The funds have also been used to contribute to various infrastructure programs in the Hudson County area, including roadway improvements and open space projects.

Calls still coming in

Of the people who have enrolled and graduated from NHCAC’s free job training programs, 77 percent have already been placed in jobs and they anticipate everyone else will be placed by the end of this month.

“My goal was to help everybody and get the people to work,” said NHCAC Job Placement Coordinator Olga Velez. “They’re happy working at what they want to do now. I’m very proud of all of this.”

With the money from the federal stimulus funds gone, the traditional job placement program at NHCAC (which includes counseling, resume assistance, and life skill building) will remain, however they won’t be able to provide the free job training programs in the same capacity.

Velez said that the calls for the job training are still coming in and she hopes to see more money streamed into the program so it can continue.

For more information about NHCAC or any of their programs for the community, visit www.nhcac.org or call (201) 210-0100.

Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at ldiaz@hudsonreporter.com.

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