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REDI: A New Beginning?

by Benjamin Harris 

There is an old saying: ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; But teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.’ This old philosophy is the foundation of the Resident Employment Development Initiative (REDI) program.

What is the REDI program? In 1995, REDI was created to empower residents to become economically self-sufficient.

In the past, Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) residents had to rely upon government social programs, low-paying jobs, part-time jobs and broken promises to make it any way they could. The social, political and economic inequalities were strong barriers to residents achieving economic success. If a resident wanted to acquire a decent-paying job, the resident might have had to travel out to the suburbs; and, after obtaining the job, the resident was often treated like an underclass citizen. Chicago’s political climate and the financial institutions’ lending policies made it difficult for residents to become self-employed.

Only recently has the political and financial atmosphere improved to the point where residents can receive some political and financial assistance in becoming self-sufficient and self-employed.

Ron Carter, executive director of CHA’s Economic Development Division, is captain of the REDI ship. Carter has said many times that “the only way to elevate the economic hardships of the CHA residents is by providing them with their own education tools and financial resources that will enable them to become self-sufficient.”

Using the vast resources of CHA for resident empowerment, REDI comprises several major components, each of which is designed to assist the residents in their particular needs.

Resident-Owned Businesses

There is another old saying: “Mother may have, father may have but God bless the child that’s got his own.”

Philip Fairweather, manager of Resident Enterprises, runs a rigorous 24-week entrepreneurial program designed to make residents into successful entrepreneurs. The course includes the mechanics of establishing a business, completing a business plan and ways to navigate tax laws. Participants also learn how to identify the competition, how to develop production and marketing plans, accounting practices and comprehensive business plan development. There’s also free technical assistance from attorneys and accountants.

Pride is only one of the benefits that the residents receive from graduating from this program. In Resident Enterprises’ first year, over $5 million in contracts had been executed with resident-owned businesses and their joint-venture partners. As of the date of this printing, over $42 million has been contracted to resident-owned businesses and their joint-venture partners.

William Moore, CEO of Moore Security Inc. and a graduate of the resident-owned business training program, said, “I am grateful of the opportunity that was provided to me by the REDI program. I could not have started my security company without the help of this program.

“I hope and pray that every resident who lives in CHA take advantage of these opportunities.”

Another graduate of this program is Claude Walker, owner of Sir Walker Pest Control. Walker said, “I have waited over 18 years for an opportunity like this. In the past, a little guy like myself had no chance in hell to acquire any sufficient business contracts from CHA. However, since this new management team has come aboard and initiated these new opportunities, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for success.

“In April of 1998, I look forward to my first contract with CHA that only the big companies could get in the past.”

At present, more than 90 new businesses have been formed as a direct result of the REDI program.

Employment and Training

Managed by Clark Roberts, the Employment and Training Department hosts two two-week sessions to help residents find work. Residents are prepared through career opportunity seminars and referrals from CHA. Participants also are given the job REDI-ness workshops, which cover how to find, get and keep a job. They are given self-assessment exercises to help them understand how their values, attitudes and past accomplishments relate to their goals and growth potential.

The department also provides referrals for child care, transportation, mentoring and follow-up that will ensure the participants’ success.

Roberts said he has seen many smiles of participants who have completed the workshops:“They come out of the program with more confidence and with a much more realistic view of themselves and the skills they need to be successful.”

The Family Investment Center

The Charles A. Hayes Family Investment Center will be the hub of the CHA’s career preparation, job training and entrepreneur development programs. CHA’s resident employment development initiative and the family self-sufficiency program will have operations at the Family Investment Center. The CHA Community Development Credit Union also will be housed there. A 50-station computer laboratory, complete with Internet capabilities, will connect residents and staff to technology learning centers throughout the CHA as well as the Illinois Department of Human Services and other databases and electronic networks. Along with offices, the center will hold a 500-seat auditorium, classrooms, medical clinic, child care facilities, television and recording studios.

“I feel honored to have this great opportunity of bringing back the Charles Hayes Center to the Bronzeville community. The site of the center has very historic significance,” said Zenobia Johnson-Black, executive director of the Hayes Center.

“The Hayes Family Investment Center embodies CHA’s commitment to positive social change.”

Business Incubator

In addition to the Hayes Center and the technology learning centers, REDI also is establishing a business incubator. The business incubator center is located at 1150 E. 89th St. The incubator will provide resident-owned businesses with commercial business development space without the high cost of overhead.

Lafayette Williams, owner of LLL Car Wash and Storage Inc., struggled for over a year to establish his car wash and storage service at the Ida B. Wells complex. He eventually gave up on locating the car wash at Wells and now has found a home at the incubator center.

“I had been frustrated for a very long time because of the obstacles I have tried to overcome in establishing my service at the Ida B. Wells homes. These frustrations and obstacles have caused disillusion and some anger in me toward the REDI program. I feel that this is a good program but a lot of problems have to be solved first. I had nearly given up starting the business until I was given the opportunity to locate my business within the incubator center. I still have some apprehension because some promises were made and not kept; however, I am not a quitter, and this is one of the best opportunities for us residents that have come along and opened some economic doors to us.”

ROBO Chamber of Commerce

The next step in the development of the REDI program is the development and the formation of the Resident Owned Business Organization Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of the ROBO Chamber of Commerce is to provide a comprehensive resource for resident-owned businesses. By having their combined strengths focused, the Resident Owned Businesses will be able to compete and succeed in this business world. Phil Fairweather said that the fundamental principle of the ROBO Chamber of Commerce is “Together we stand and divided we will fall.”

Some Words of Caution

Not all testimonials are success stories. Some residents who worked for resident-owned businesses complained that they were not paid for the work they did.

A. Washington said, “I worked for one of those resident-owned businesses and when it was time to get paid, I didn’t get paid; what I got was some excuses and a lot of B.S. I was told to file a grievance but you know how far that will go. I received a call from CHA and after listening to that jerk, I hung up the phone; and I hope that I never hear from them again.”

Conclusions

As a resident-owned business myself, I know how frustrating it can be in this business world. I know that when a new program is initiated, there will be some bugs that must be worked out of the program. I have had to withstand the frustration, disappointment and outright extortion in the development of my business. I have had to deal with setbacks, broken promises and downright lies. I have had to deal with ferocious competitors every day; and don’t exclude the Internal Revenue Service.

Nevertheless, I use all of these negatives to build a strong business character. In addition, I analyze these negatives very closely so that I can avoid them in the future. I know of no business that has succeeded without overcoming these negatives and using them to their advantages.

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