Mayor Nutter and Project HOME Focus on Employment
While at 1515 Fairmount's Employment Services Department, the Mayor emphasized his commitment to finding new ways to combat an old problem (unemployment by those who were previously homeless or who are poor). The Mayor's visit enabled past and current residents to both relate their successes and share their hard-earned wisdom, emphasizing the important role Employment Services programs and staff played in their recovery.Fresh off an inaugural speech that highlighted the economic inequality that still plagues the city, Mayor Michael Nutter stopped by Project HOME on New Year's Day for a visit.
One of those in attendance was Walter Broadnax, a member of Project HOME’s Board of Trustees and an employee at the HOME Page Café in the Philadelphia Free Library. Walter spoke recently about those opportunities and how they’ve shaped his life.
In 2007, Broadnax found himself “basically homeless” and seriously ill. A trip to a VA hospital – he was discharged from the military in 1979 due to injury – revealed a cancerous right kidney. The cancer, coupled with a substance abuse problem that Broadnax had developed after leaving the military prematurely, left Broadnax with the troubling prospect of a complicated and unsure recovery.
Fortunately, the cancer was successfully removed, but Broadnax was forced to enter the city shelter system while still trying to recover from the cancer surgery and regain the significant amount of weight he’d lost while sick. His luck held, however, and within four months a bed opened at our St. Elizabeth’s Recovery Residence.
“That was the best thing that ever happened to me because it gave me my freedom back,” Broadnax said. He believes his access to a private space, with a supportive community, at St. Elizabeth’s sped his recovery and enabled him to turn his thoughts to the future, rather than focus solely on the present.
And as it turned out, that future included becoming an important member of the Project HOME community. In less than two years after first arriving at St. Elizabeth’s, Broadnax moved into his own place and began looking for work. Facilitating his entry back into the workforce was the Exelon Foundation Veterans Training & Employment Program, which placed him at the HOME Page Café as an intern. For nearly two years, Broadnax has been working at the café – accruing responsibility and experience all the while – while also helping to ease the transition for new HOME Page employees in a peer support role.
“The café is an important aspect of Project HOME’s initiatives to create sustainable employment opportunities because it combines the social mission with a smart business model. It combines the employment angle as well as social support within an environment where our staff can be successful,” said HOME Page Café Manager Nathan Matlin.
The Café is but one feature of the Employment Services Department’s slate of services. It joins Project HOME’ second social enterprise, Our Daily Threads thrift store; employment opportunity development; alumni support; and more. But the Café, like Our Daily Threads, provides those re-entering the workforce practical experience and, importantly, a paycheck. But these visible examples of Project HOME’s mission in action play another important role, said Matlin. “The HOME Page Café gives people the chance to see their purchase make an impact; both in the daily growth of our staff and in our support for local vendors,” he said.
As for Broadnax, the Café is offering a way forward, one step at a time. “You’ve got to apply yourself and be patient.”