Sylvan Lebrun, Contributing Photographer

On Friday afternoon, about a dozen people gathered at the Boys & Girls Club of New Haven to celebrate the Club’s ongoing partnership with Workforce Alliance, which has allowed for the expanded hiring of learning hub staff. 

Since September of last year, the Boys & Girls Club, or BGC, has run a learning hub where local students take their virtual classes and receive academic support, socializing in pod groups. BGC has hired six new learning hub staff members in the past four months through Workforce Alliance’s COVID-19 relief employment program. Workforce Alliance, an employment and job-training organization, has partnered with local nonprofits doing pandemic relief work and helped them hire unemployed or underemployed workers for short-term roles using federal emergency funding. 

At Friday’s press event, BGC and Workforce Alliance leaders, along with a new staff member, spoke on the value of the partnership. Representatives from the YMCA and Clifford Beers, a children’s mental health clinic which helps organize the learning hubs, also delivered remarks. 

“One of the things I’m most proud of that we’ve been able to do here at the Boys and Girls Club is keep people employed,” said Barbara Chesler, interim executive director of the BGC. “We have over 23 staff who’ve worked every day from eight to five… We would have not been able to afford to keep the amount of staffing that we have without the support of Workforce Alliance.” 

Amid the pandemic, Chesler told the News, the learning hub at the BGC has served as many as 58 students at a time, splitting them into “pod” groups as a safety measure. 

Students currently attend BGC’s learning hub at no cost to their families — although this was not true for the first ten weeks after the hub opened. According to Chesler, funding from sources like the Workforce Alliance allowed them to move to a fee-free model, which there was “no way” they could have done otherwise. Through this funding, they have been able to hire and pay the salaries of enough staff members to meet student demand and stay open five days a week. 

“When the learning hubs were presented to us… we thought this was a great opportunity,” Bill Villano, president and CEO of Workforce Alliance, said in an interview with the News. “It helps us put people to work who are out of work. It helps organizations like this with staffing, it helps municipalities and their education system. So, it was something that we wanted to do right away.”

The BGC was connected with Workforce Alliance prior to the pandemic as a local partner organization, Villano said. 

Using a portion of the federal COVID-19 emergency funding allocated for the state of Connecticut, Workforce Alliance connects unemployed New Haveners with local organizations doing vital pandemic relief work such as childcare, vaccination or food distribution, Villano explained in his speech at the event. To be eligible for placement in a temporary position at one of these organizations, job-seekers have to have been displaced from their prior positions as a result of the pandemic. Workforce Alliance handles the recruitment and screening process, according to Chesler, and then fully funds the salaries for the placed individuals. 

Vicki Gelpke, Workforce Alliance’s business services specialist, shared that this program has so far placed nine residents in short-term positions at the BGC and the YMCA’s learning hubs. 

She urged community organizations across New Haven to seek a similar partnership with Workforce Alliance, explaining that federal funding for new hires is available through September of this year. Eligible job-seekers can apply for the program on their website.

Planning discussions between BGC and Workforce Alliance began in September when the BGC learning hub first opened, Chester told the News, but it took months to finalize the partnership and interview candidates. The first of the new staff members officially started working in early to mid-January, but hiring is still ongoing. Chesler said that they are going to “jump on” an opportunity to hire additional staff members through similar means. 

“I’ve now been interviewing candidates that we’re trying to hire… but we’ve been able to selectively interview those who are displaced and who need us the most,” said Won Jung ’20, director of programs and administration at the BGC. “We’ve been able to offer jobs to qualified candidates who, for one reason or another, have been displaced because of COVID.” 

Jung himself was hired full-time at the BGC through the Workforce Alliance’s employment program, officially starting on Jan. 4 of this year after years of unpaid volunteering. He was one of the two new BGC staff members present at Friday’s event. 

The other staff member present was Ebony Gibbons, who had worked in hotel management before losing her job at the outset of the pandemic. In an interview with the News, she explained how happy she has been since starting her job at the learning hub at the end of March. As someone who is passionate about working with children and wishes to go into a career in youth mental health, Gibbons described the new job as “a dream.” 

“When I went on unemployment, they sent me an email from Workforce Alliance, and I logged into their portal and was able to see all those offers that they had,” Gibbons said in her speech at the event. “I saw ‘youth staff development’ for Boys and Girls Club. I was like yes… I went and I applied… I got a response back, and now I’m here. I’m really happy and grateful.”

The Boys & Girls Club of New Haven was founded in 1871.

Sylvan Lebrun | sylvan.lebrun@yale.edu

SYLVAN LEBRUN
Sylvan Lebrun covers local nonprofits and social services. She is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College majoring in English.