When President Obama talked Tuesday night about funding “proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs,” you might have thought administrators would be jumping up and down at the Outsource Center on Fillmore Avenue.
After all, this training program in one of the most job-starved parts of the city has a proven track record of putting to work the very people that contractors say they can’t find.
But its track record also proves that – around here – results are not enough.
Asked before the speech about the impact of any new federal initiative to put to work the people he trains, the center’s executive director was not ready to start counting the dollars.
“The federal government may well send money to the state, and the state will send it to the city – and it will get lost there,” said Dorian Gaskin, bewildered at why such a successful program has such trouble getting support.
But then again, maybe it’s not that bewildering to anyone familiar with the schmoozing and party support required to be among the “in” faction to get funding, or with what former Congressman J.C. Watts famously described as “poverty pimps,” who like to keep people dependent because it keeps public officials in jobs.
Obama, on the other hand, was talking about providing the training and apprenticeships to cut that dependency cord and send “young workers on an upward trajectory for life.”
That’s what happens at the center, where the so-called unemployable – from poor, single mothers to former gang members – go through free, 10-week training programs because they want to turn their lives around. They learn both the soft skills – attitude, punctuality, dependability – and the job skills necessary to do the work.
In its six years, the center has trained about 325 people, according to Spencer Gaskin, who started the program with his nephew. The grads have worked on projects ranging from PUSH Buffalo rehabilitations to Lamparelli Construction’s new Housing Opportunities Made Equal facility to Rocco Termini’s transformation of the Hotel @ The Lafayette, where 47 of 49 Outsource Center grads stuck with it from beginning to end.
Dorian Gaskin credits Termini with recognizing and accommodating the challenges faced by some Outsource Center students, such as single mothers with a sudden child care emergency.
“Everybody’s got to learn to give and take a little bit. You’re trying to bring people up by their bootstraps, and this is one way you can do it,” said Termini, who praised the center.
But despite that record, the Gaskins say they fund most of the operation themselves, with some help from foundations such as Oishei and a banker who helps them access Community Reinvestment Act dollars. For a long time, the center was shut out of county job-training dollars, until Mark Poloncarz became county executive and saw the program’s value, Dorian Gaskin said.
They’re still waiting for City Hall to have a similar epiphany – which should be easy to come by. City officials who nodded when the president talked about putting workers in “good jobs that need to be filled right now” should look at the construction cranes they always brag about, then juxtapose that with the crime and poverty of the East Side.
Then they should drop in at the Outsource Center – and bring a check.