A chunk of money from New Rochelle developers is being used to find jobs for hard-to-employ residents.
City officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 26 for the First Source Referral Center, a one-stop job training and placement office at 247 North Ave.
The jobs center is funded by developers who kick money into a community benefits fund for the right to build higher than the zoning allows.
“Economic development can shape the fabric of a community,” Mayor Noam Bramson said at the event. “Even more importantly, it can change lives.”
New Rochelle hopes to attract more than $4 billion in investments and create thousands of construction jobs to develop 12 million square feet of offices, residents and retail space in 10 years.
The city’s economy, overall, is strong. The unemployment rate in 2015 averaged 4.9 percent, according to the American Community Survey, compared with 5.3 percent nationally and statewide.
But the economy was not necessarily robust everywhere in the city. An estimated 7.7 percent of families lived below poverty level, and among residents under age 18 the poverty rate was 16.2 percent.
“Unemployment and underemployment are high in pockets,” said New Rochelle Councilman Jared R. Rice, a Democrat representing District 3 on the city council. “The beauty of this jobs center is that it’s connected to the downtown development and investments.”
The jobs center has a $285,000 one-year budget, said Ayanna C. Wayner, the city’s deputy commissioner for economic development.
RDRXX, a partnership of RXR Realty and Renaissance Downtowns, donated the office space.
The city is partnering with Westhab, a county social services program, and STRIVE, a national job training program based in Harlem. The goal is to train 100 people.
The target client is from 16 to 24 years old, unemployed or underemployed and may have been incarcerated or have struggled with mental health issues.
“We work with the hardest to serve,” said James Coughlin, Westhab’s senior vice president of services.
The program actually began about three months ago. Coughlin was uncertain then that enough candidates could be found to participate. Sixty-three people enrolled. “That was an eye-opener,” he said.
Case managers assess each candidate’s job readiness. Many candidates have been in training or mentoring programs previously but failed to find success in the job market. So building trust is important.
“We start by getting them to tell us about themselves, their families, their goals,” Coughlin said. “We take the journey with them.”
They might need food, MetroCards for transportation, clothing for a job interview, child care or housing. The program connects them with support services.
The center has already held a couple of workshops on construction jobs, with speakers from RXR Realty and Hudson Meridian Construction Group, a New York City construction management company. It also works with the New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce, Wayner said, to identify jobs in fields such as retail and health care.
Already, 20 candidates have landed full-time jobs and 27 are in training programs, said Joanne Dunn, Westhab’s director of employment services.
“We’re like life coaches,” Coughlin said, “being a part of their entire lives and tackling all barriers.”
“Anybody can get a job at McDonald’s. It’s getting jobs where you can stay and grow,” he said.