Operation ABLE

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I‘d like to inform the readers of an organization that states that it helps seniors, people with disabilities and others find part-time work and training in many Chicago locations, with some offices a few blocks away from CHA developments.

Operation ABLE is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1977, according to their 1998/1999annual report. “Operation ABLE was created by the Chicago Community Trust Organization with a staff of three, a budget of $47,500 and a vision of helping workers 55 years of age and older find employment opportunities.”

The group serves seniors, people with disabilities and others by providing them with employment and training. “Operation ABLE (Ability Based on Long Experience) became known as an advocate for the older workers. In 1990, Operation ABLE revised its mission statement to include services to individuals of all ages, while maintaining its original emphasis on serving the unique needs of the older worker.”

There are several programs Operation ABLE has for you to choose from. Their main concerns are helping individuals find employment and provide technical training that can help you get the skills needed in today’s job market. The programs include all age groups and persons with disabilities.

A flyer from Operation ABLE mentions that on Nov. 1, 2001, the group held their 11th annual Operation Access job fair with Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr.

“For persons with disabilities, Cook County government is striving for a barrier-free environment,” the flyer states. I asked Julia Green, program coordinator with Operation ABLE, to elaborate on her group’s Senior Community Service Employment program. Green said the program is open to people 55 years or older who have a low income and live in Chicago. The program is funded by the Illinois Department on Aging.

“The way that program works is that we provide part-time work of 20 hours a week. (Seniors) are placed to work either here or at other government agencies or at several of Operation ABLE networking agencies.

“They (the seniors) basically do clerical work. As a matter of fact, all of our people do clerical work. They do filing, reception and general office work. A lot of those agencies seek people with computer skills. We place them with that particular agency. We have an agency who is looking for someone who can do basic word processing. The pay is $5.15 a hour, which is minimum wage, because this is a program that’s designed to give individuals experience so that it will be easier for them to find them a job that’s not funded by the federal government.”

Green continued, “Some people in this program have not worked for a long time. For example, I just had a lady who had not worked in 11 years. She was enrolled in the program and was placed in a situation where she is now doing clerical work. She is also getting computer training and hopefully, in a couple of months, I will be able to move her into a better paying job.

“While they (the seniors) are in this program, I am the person responsible for giving them placement assistance and I do that on an individual basis as well as a group basis. Once a week, I have a job club meeting in the Pilsen Illinois Employment and Training Center. The club is just for older workers. They come once a week and they talk about the interview strategies, resume writing, how to follow up an interview, how to answer questions that are asked by employers, but above all, to arrange job interviews and find job openings.

“I show them how to find job openings themselves once they have been on an interview and come back to the club. We also discuss the results of the interview and a few basics. How did you handle the interview? Do you feel you did right or wrong? So, we identify things that they may have done wrong and correct them so they won’t make the same mistake over and over again. It’s actually a learning experience.”

Seniors who find work through the program do not get health insurance or other benefits. They get paid a half-time rate for vacation and sick days.

I asked Green if the seniors work because they are bored or just need something to do with their time.

She said, “They work because they have to work to supplement their small income.”

Operation ABLE also has a One Stop Employment and Training Center located at 1657 S. Blue Island, in the vicinity of the Racine Apartments senior building, the ABLA Homes family development and other sites. The staff at the One Stop center has a huge list of technical training and job opportunities anyone can take advantage of. One Stop Center staff will place people in training programs to help them become vending machine technicians, telecommunication technicians or electronic service technicians, according to a brochure given out at the center. The One Stop Center staff also is supposed to assist people get jobs.

Even though the brochure states the One Stop Center will help people in this way, I was unable to interview anyone who actually had been served by them.

The 1998/1999 annual report states, “Other technological advances keep us competitive and more capable of serving our clients and our ever-expanding network agencies. The computer network was first installed at our Pilsen One-Stop with Internet access at all work stations. The new state-of-the-art computerized tracking system, which stores client information, is also up and running. All of our sites, with the exception of the training center, now have Internet access and the ability to electronically communicate with each other through local area networks. We have also established direct links to 41 Chicago area employers, who list job openings on their Web sites.”

Operation ABLE also has another program called the ABLA Transitional Job Center, 1209 S. Loomis Ave.

Here are some excerpts taken from an Operation ABLE flyer that has an overview of services at the ABLA Transitional Job Center:

“The ABLA Transitional Job Center (TCJ) works in partnership with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) ABLA Homes to implement a HUD revitalization grant known as Hope VI. The goal of HOPE VI is to change the face of public housing developments and create viable, safe, mixed-income communities inhabited by a combination of residents needing affordable housing. These residences would ideally be part of the neighborhood fabric of the city, as opposed to being isolated pockets of blighted housing, high crime, and poverty.

“The ABLA residents, represented by the Local Advisory Council, the City of Chicago, Operation ABLE Inc. and the CHA, developed a plan to establish this site at ABLA where residents could receive job readiness skills, social services, vocational training and job placement.

“The TJC was opened on July 26, 1999, with a staff of seven case managers, job developers and trainers providing a multitude of service and service referrals. Since then, more than 1,000 residents have come through the facility….” The brochure states that the Transitional Job Center specializes in working with men who are ex-offenders, chronically unemployed or otherwise hard to place in jobs.

“So far, we have been able to place twenty –three (23) of fifty-eight (58) of them and forty-five (45) of fifty-five (55) have been enrolled in vocational training.

This population is extremely critical in fulfilling the vision of Hope VI to create self-sufficiency and full employment to the residents of the “NEW” ABLA Homes – a mixed-income community of working families.”

I made an exhaustive effort to get more information about the ABLA Transitional Job Center but to no avail. I made a telephone call to Charles Wood, the director of center. At the time, he said he was too busy to comment on the program and then didn’t return my telephone call, as he promised.

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