Girard College job fair draws 400 out-of-work Philadelphians on MLK Day

Jeremiah Luff , 6, sorts scarves and gloves donated by the Liberty Council Pack and Troop 125, a Boy Scout troop based in Olney, at Girard College's Day of Service celebration.
Jeremiah Luff , 6, sorts scarves and gloves donated by the Liberty Council Pack and Troop 125, a Boy Scout troop based in Olney, at Girard College's Day of Service celebration.
Posted: January 23, 2013

FIFTY YEARS AGO, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech on the National Mall, an unforgettable moment in America's history. But what many forget is the full purpose of that demonstration, "The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom."

"It's important to realize that Dr. King was not just a champion of civil rights, but he was very much an advocate for economic justice," said Todd Bernstein, who organizes the Martin Luther King Day of Service activities in Philadelphia, where the now-national event began in 1996.

On Monday, about 400 job-seekers from the Philadelphia area got the opportunity to meet with 15 employers at a Jobs & Opportunities Fair at Girard College in North Philadelphia - where King himself once gave a speech decrying the school's former whites-only policy - as part of this year's Day of Service.

"I am optimistic. It's hard to find something," said Amber Grayson, a Community College of Philadelphia student who has been job hunting for months.

The psychology major met with recruiters from Comcast, AT&T and ShopRite, inquiring about open positions from cashier to sales consultant.

One requirement asked of the assembled employers was that they have "real, available openings" to fill, Bernstein said.

"Not all jobs fairs have real jobs. Some jobs fairs have nice displays and interviews and whatever," he said. "But if you're going to have a jobs fair, have jobs."

Vu Trieu, a diversity recruiter for Comcast, said he collected about 80 to 100 resumes for positions in sales and customer service.

"It was a great atmosphere. Everyone was professional. Most people came with a resume," he said.

Trieu said last year's event was busier than this year's, which could be a sign that many people have found jobs since - "or maybe it was too cold."

The event, in its second year, was organized in part by volunteers from Global Citizen, of which Bernstein is president, and the nonprofit Philadelphia Works.

Temple University, Piedmont Airlines and the Philadelphia Police Department also participated in the fair. Job-seekers also had the opportunity to attend seminars on resume-writing, budget management and starting a business.

The Philly area's Day of Service, with more than 110,000 volunteers participating in 1,500 service projects, is the nation's largest observation of the holiday, Bernstein said, and "has seen a tremendous, incredibly diverse turnout of people of all ages and backgrounds."

The day is the brainchild of Bernstein and former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Pa., who two decades ago wondered, "How could we celebrate [King's] legacy in a way that really represented his life of action?" according to Bernstein. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed a bill by Wofford that made the event a national celebration.

Girard College hosted a majority of the city's Day of Service events. In one program, Keyspot, a nonprofit agency that aims to improve Internet access for Philadelphians, gave out 200 netbook computers to Philadelphia Housing Authority residents who went through a computer-skills course and will continue to receive training.

"People were extremely excited" to get the netbooks, said Tomarra Buckner, an intern at Keyspot.

"The digital divide is really serious here in Philadelphia," she said, and projects like Keyspot help disadvantaged residents "empower themselves."

On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN


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