Xiomara Yllanes, who is “50 plus,” has two children in college and a disabled husband. She worked for 20 years in the administrative medical field until one day in 2007, she said, the company picked up and moved overseas to Costa Rica.
Yllanes turned what was an otherwise unfortunate circumstance into an opportunity to go back to school. She became a licensed EMT and received her EKG certification and tried to find work, but has been unable to secure herself a steady job since.
“I wanted to try to move on from payroll when I had my job,” Yllanes said, “but now I will gladly take anything, as long as it pays over $8 an hour.”
“We see the pain unemployed residents face every day.” – David Rivera
“I am thankful for the jobs I’ve had because we have to eat,” she said, “but the companies who use these agencies are taking advantage and getting the job done for less money. And who suffers? We do.”
Yllanes, who lives in North Bergen, saw signs on Bergenline Avenue advertising the second annual West New York Job Fair held at the middle school on April 12 and showed up early for the event.
“I’m entering my final years, and I would really love to have something steady,” Yllanes said. “I just want to work.”
Fulfilling a need
After the town’s last fair in October that attracted 800 job seekers, officials decided it was necessary to hold a second annual fair, Public Affairs Aide David Rivera said.
“We see the pain unemployed residents face every day,” he explained. “We wanted to help ease that pain and to also help the town deal with the people who come in daily asking for jobs. So we thought, what better way to do this than to host another fair?”
The town’s commissioners worked with volunteers for three months to put the event together. Companies such as Hertz, Avon, the Dish Network, and Bayonne Hospital set up tables alongside the 64 other vendors available to attendants.
Staffing agencies also set up informational tables, many of which North Hudson Community Action Center (NHCAC) Job Placement Coordinator Olga Velez helped to bring to the fair.
“People tend to be afraid of staffing agencies, particularly those for whom English is a second language,” she said. “But they shouldn’t be.”
Both the town and NHCAC offer English as a Second Language classes to locals. Beyond that, Velez oversees customer service training, resume building, and logistical issues that may deter locals from getting the most out of their job search, she said. The NHCAC provides these services year-round, and in the past year, they have found work for over 400 people.
Some people are afraid they won’t be able to find employment because they’ve been out of work for so long. Velez wishes to assure people this is not true.
“It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out of a job,” she said. “Everyone gets nervous during interviews. We work to place people where they’re qualified.”
Not just jobless
Though unemployment rates have dropped from around 9 to 8.2 percent in the Union City and West New York area according to Velez, it’s not simply a matter of unemployment, but of underemployment.
Many locals like Yllanes may have temp jobs, part-time, or full-time jobs that don’t pay enough or don’t provide the stability and benefits they need.
Mariah Jacoby moved to West New York a year ago. She has a job to support her aspirations as a musician and a model, but she came to the fair in search of something better.
“It’s great that the town offers people services like this in a recession,” she said. “[West New York] seems truly concerned about their residents whereas a lot of other towns don’t seem to care.”
Teaching someone to fish
Tough economic times make it difficult for residents to pay their rent, their medical bills, and to simply make ends meet, West New York Mayor Felix Roque said. Of the many people who visit town hall, around half are looking for housing, and half are looking for jobs.
“It breaks my heart to see how many people need money,” Roque said. “By helping our residents find work, we’re empowering them to grow. You can’t just give people money; you have to teach them to fish, so to speak.”
Memorial High School’s Cooperative Education Coordinator Kelly Gambuzza does just that. Since before her 31 year tenure began, the Senior Internship Program has been helping students find internships that provide them with the skills, drive, and connections necessary to attain gainful employment, both before and after graduation.
Seventeen-year-old junior Alvin Medesta came to the fair to find a paid job that would help him pay for college. He has taken part in Gambuzza’s program for eight months while earning all A and B grades in school (which is required to stay in the program).
“My parents can’t afford to send me to college, and I need to build my savings,” Medesta said. “I want to do something with myself.” He plans to major in computer science when he graduates next year.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org