Juan Scruggs was looking for 15 new employees—part- and full-time—to fill out his staff at the 24/7 McDonalds on Whalley Avenue. Allen Smith may fit the bill.
Smith was one of scores of job seekers and other help seekers who converged on the Green Thursday for a five-hour resource fair organized by the city’s Re-Entry Roundtable. Twenty-nine sponsors contributed a total of $5,000 for the privilege of setting up tables with information aimed at anyone with “a barrier to employment,” as Re-Entry coordinator Amy Meek (pictured with Smith) put it: first and foremost, anyone with a felony record. (Click here and here for background stories.)
“We actually went to employers, emailed them, followed up with phone calls—a very aggressive campaign to reach out to employers,” said Lisa Fluker, who helped Meek organize the fair. “Although the economy at this time, across the board, is fairly slow, we did have some favorable response.”
Smith said he was on his way to the library to search for jobs on the computer when he saw the hubbub on the Green. “Unfortunately, I do have many barriers that’s a hindrance to my job search, but I don’t let it deter me from looking, because I know a door will open as long as I’m persistent in looking. If there’s such a thing as a plus [in this situation], I don’t have a violent history, just a drug history.”
He has multiple convictions for drug sales and use, and served “a few” stints in prison. The most recent was for a year, and he got out two years ago. He said he’s been putting in job applications all over the city and beyond, but no luck so far.
Smith (right in top photo) approached the table where Juan Scruggs sat in the hot sun, still looking spiffy in his McDonald’s uniform. Scruggs said he owns the franchise at 250 Whalley Ave., and he was looking to hire ten part-time and five full-time employees. He currently has 47 workers, but to run his business around the clock he’s been advised to have up to 65. Starting pay is minimum wage—$8.25 an hour in Connecticut—and there are no benefits, but he said he has openings in all areas: food prep, food serving (at the counter), cashier and maintenance.
Smith said he’d worked at a McDonalds in another state, and was head of maintenance. Scruggs was impressed, and the two chatted for awhile, ending with a handshake. Scruggs gave everyone who stopped by a yellow sheet with information about how to apply on-line. “And I give them all my cell phone and tell them to call me to follow up,” he added, “or just stop in if they want to check on their application.”
Raymond Rosario (pictured) heard about the fair from his mother, a city employee. He said he has a history of being in the wrong line of work—drug sales—and the felony record to go along with it.
“I visited about eight tables,” he said. “There’s a lot of resources here. It’s up to us to use it. Finally, we’re being reached out to.I felt [before] we were being pushed under the table. We weren’t being recognized, and now I feel our voice has been heard, and people do care and are doing something about it.”
Asked how confident he was he’d be able to get a job in this still struggling economy, he responded firmly, “Very confident.” Why? “Because the motivation these people give me, and the resources that I’ve gotten, I think there’s about a 90 to 95 percent [chance] that I’ll find employment soon.”
Former State Rep. Bill Dyson, who volunteers as co-chair of the Re-Entry Roundtable, was perched at a table on the edge of the stage. He said he had “a good feeling” about the day. He used the same term as Rosario, saying that people long excluded from society—either by prison walls or by discrimination upon their release from jail—“have been recognized.”
Other tables were staffed by individuals from New Haven Adult Education, New Haven Legal Assistance, Free Forever Prison Ministry, Strive and many more.