HACE celebrates six months of Jobs Plus Program in New Jersey

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ELIZABETH, NJ — The Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth’s Jobs Plus Program is marking six months of operation in Mravlag Manor. Since its inception in February 2021, the Jobs Plus Program has assessed more than 60 residents, providing customized case management to each individual to help them reach their goals in employment, education, health and beyond. In addition to creating these plans, the Jobs Plus team has connected residents to a multitude of resources aimed at breaking down the barriers that stand in the way of gaining or maintaining employment.

As a direct result of participation in the Jobs Plus Program, six residents have been employed in new jobs at Lineage Logistics, Evergreen Cemetery, Boys Logistics LLC and Newark Liberty Airport; two residents have been able to advance to higher-paying jobs, after receiving assistance with refining resumes and brushing up on interview skills. Other organizations that have begun interviewing Jobs Plus participants include Amazon, NYNJ Link, Avenel in Woodbridge Township and Elizabeth’s Recreation Department. Furthermore, Jobs Plus participants are saving significantly on their rent through the Jobs Plus Earned Income Disregard; in total, $19,565 in rent has been disregarded so far, allowing residents to save for the future.

Marina Rodriguez, one of HACE’s Jobs Plus Program’s youngest participants, was fortunate to secure and start working at her first job. Rodriguez enrolled in the program on Thursday, April 22, and, just five weeks in, she secured a job with Lineage Logistics on Tuesday, June 1. Rodriguez will be a senior in high school this school year, and, since she started at Lineage Logistics, she increased her hours from part-time to full-time work in the summer. She is doing extremely well at the company. Sales Manager Justin Harris said, “Marina is well-liked by everyone and is a fast learner who is doing very well here.” Rodriguez is excited to continue to grow at Lineage Logistics; as she prepares to return to school to complete her senior year, the company is going to work with her schedule so that she is able to maintain employment throughout the school year.

Jobs Plus participants also include one participant currently taking GED classes, as well as two students starting college: one is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Kean University and the other is pursuing her associate’s degree in social services from Union County College.

“The Jobs Plus Program has helped me save so much money in rent since I began!” said Natasha Vazquez, HACE resident and Jobs Plus Program participant. “I am ever grateful for their help throughout this process. With the Jobs Plus Earned Income Disregard, I am able to save money in hopes of someday owning my own home. The opportunities are endless.”

The Jobs Plus team has also reported that its first resident, due to her participation in the Jobs Plus Program, has been able to move out of public housing. This resident was initially assessed on Tuesday, Feb. 16, about two weeks after the program’s official kickoff. Toward the end of March, after working on some goals that had been established following her intake, HACE offered resources to help her update her resume and forwarded it, along with her work history, to Lineage Logistics on Monday, April 5. On Tuesday, April 6, she was asked to come in for an interview, and on Thursday, April 8, she was offered a full-time position with Lineage Logistics. To date, she has completed 90 days of successful employment with Lineage Logistics and is currently pursuing management classes that are offered by the company as she prepares for a promotion. With this employment and the Jobs Plus Earned Income Disregard, she was able to save enough money to be approved to rent a four-bedroom home for herself and her three children in a neighborhood with a great school district. She beamed with pride and excitement as she showed photos and videos of her new home, and the smiles on her children’s faces provided all the proof needed that the Jobs Plus Program is important, it is needed and it is changing lives.

Cathy Hart, HACE deputy executive director, said of the program’s success, “The results of the Jobs Plus Program have been incredible. LaChelle (Thompson), our Jobs Plus Program director, and the whole Jobs Plus team has done a tremendous job of meeting the needs of our residents and committing themselves to help advance their careers. The ultimate goal is to increase self-sufficiency among residents, as well as increase wages earned through working. We aim to make working families the norm. Our Jobs Plus Program will run for three more years, and we look forward to improving the lives of many more residents.”

With the creation of HACE’s Jobs Plus University, many residents have taken advantage of employment readiness classes, including resume writing, interview skills and how to use LinkedIn. The Jobs Plus team focuses on developing as many soft skills as possible, in order to prepare participants for interviews. Residents have been able to attend a financial literacy class hosted by a partnering bank and can enroll in a new cycle of financial literacy classes starting in October. Participants in the financial literacy class have learned skills related to budgeting, choosing life insurance, and planning financially for their futures and potentially a life outside of public housing.

HACE has partnered with Ameer Natson, celebrity chef and entrepreneur, who is currently providing a 12-week professional culinary development program to HACE residents through his Fresh Chef Catering enterprise and an eight-week media development program to residents through his other company, Become Creative Agency. HACE’s Jobs Plus University will be launching Lunch and Learn programming covering a variety of career skills topics, beginning in September. The Jobs Plus program has also linked its participants with partners offering no-cost GED classes, access to transportation assistance and resources for finding affordable child care.

HACE’s Jobs Plus Program is possible thanks to a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HACE was one of nine housing authorities in the nation to receive a grant for the Jobs Plus Program from HUD in 2020. For more information about HACE’s Jobs Plus Program, contact LaChelle Thompson at 908-965-2400, ext.153.

Photos Courtesy of LisaMarie Gaeta