Rep. Welch’s Job Fair Becomes A Forum For Second Chances

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Rep. Welch greeted attendees at the entrace. Photo by Michael Romain for The Village Free Press.

Monday, June 15, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

FOREST PARK–Marko Tomazovich was bent over at a recruiter’s table, his whole being concentrated on a very formal-looking piece of paper. He had a long, gelled tail of hair that looked like it could’ve been the back end of a mullet and that poked out of a tousled baseball cap. He wore a plaid shirt and jeans. He looked like someone you’d more likely encounter at a truck stop than a job fair. When I told Tomazovich, 53, that he looks ten years younger, he took the compliment in stride and with a touch of genuine humility.

“Jail preserves you,” he said.We both laughed.

Tomazovich was among a crowd of about 420 that packed the lunchroom of Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park on last Saturday looking for an opportunity to work. This was the second consecutive free job fair hosted by State Representative Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-7th), who said that he decided to start putting them on due to raw demand.

“I’m pretty active in my district and most people come up to me to talk about the need for a job,” Welch said. “They’re either unemployed or under-employed. I just listen to my constituents. My job is to bring things like this to them.”

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Marko Tamzovich waits to see a representative. Photo by Michael Romain for The Village Free Press.

Last year, the fair took place at the Broadview Park District. He said that the decision to relocate to PMSA was based on the need for more room for vendors, more parking and the proximity to public transit. He also mentioned another element of this year’s fair that may have been different from the one last year.

“There’s been a lot of people from [Cook County Clerk] Dorothy Brown’s Expungement Summit,” Welch said. “The people [at the Clerk’s office] have told me they want to give people a second a chance.”

People like Marko.

“I was charged with 19 counts of something and 18 were [thrown out], but they’re all under the same count,” Tomazovich said. “They’re still on my record except for one–the home invasion.”

He didn’t go into the details of his case, but insisted that he wasn’t guilty of all of the charges and that, as a result of them, he had to do more than a decade in prison.

“I’m a tool-and-die maker with a 14-year gap in my work history,” said Tomazovich, who heard about Rep. Welch’s fair after attending Clerk Brown’s Annual Expungment Summit on June 7, in Forest Park.

He said that after attending the event, officials at the Clerk’s office gave him a slew of references, one of which was the job fair. Tomazovich said that he was surprised by how quickly he obtained information from representatives at the fair and hoped that it would lead to something.

“A lot of people–we’re trying to get out of the hood,” Tomazovich said, “but some just can’t. We need some help.”

There were 36 vendors at Saturday’s fair to lend the kind of assistance to which Tomazovich referred. Businesses and organizations such as Aflac, the Illinois Department of Public Health, PLCCA, Nicor, Comcast, Walgreens, AT&T, ComEd, Guaranty Bank and Pace Bus Company were on hand to distribute applications, answer career-related questions and provide the kind of intimate, one-on-one assistance that the internet will never quite replace.

Fernando Chavarrita, an affirmative action officer with the Illinois Department of Corrections, said that his department is particularly interested in serving communities, such as Maywood, that are predominantly minority.

“We’re looking to attract minorities, because we’re underutilized in those categories,” Chavarrita said.

He touted the myriad benefits, the potential for career advancement and the union protection as clear advantages to pursuing a career in corrections. However, Chavarrita also noted that those opportunities and the ways to go about applying for jobs in his department may not be immediately apparent to many applicants.

“A lot of people don’t know about the opportunities, so we’re aggressively participating in these types of events and coming into underserved communities. We’re aggressively hiring in communities like this one,” he said.

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Chavarrita’s information gap may have applied as much to that between the entities represented at the fair as between the entities and the applicants. Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins, who was present along with her executive assistant Jonette Greenhow at a table representing the Village, said that she also gained some new-found knowledge at the fair.

“This [job fair] let’s the people know what is out here and available. A lot of people have no idea what these organizations have to offer. I picked up some good information myself. I’m going to use the literature that I picked up to possibly partner with these other organizations in the future,” Perkins said.

But not all of the entities at the fair suffered from a dearth of information. Michael Stevens, Director of Legislation with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said that his department’s main problem when it came to finding good applicants was time.

“Our positions have quite a bit of demand. Our biggest problem is we can’t hire fast enough,” he said.

Stevens noted that the department’s most in-demand positions are concentrated in energy–oil, gas, mines and minerals. Individuals with educational backgrounds in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields are encouraged to apply for positions such as site technician, civil engineer, land reclamation specialist and state mine inspector.

However, not every vendor was looking for applicants with high-level educational backgrounds. That’s something Ramanda Bond, 22, found out when she came to the fair with a relative. Bond, a resident of Summit, studies Criminal Justice at Roosevelt University and plans on going to law school. Currently, she interns with the Public Defender’s office.

“I learned some stuff I didn’t know. I’m glad there are actual companies from a lot of different areas here. I expected it to be people from retail and fast food, but there are major companies with all kinds of jobs,” she said.

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Kristen Parham, a Proviso West alumnus and Hillside native, graduated from Kentucky State University in May with a degree in psychology. Parham, 23, said that she’s been searching for entry-level employment with agencies such as the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Illinois Department of Human Rights for several months. Both agencies were represented at the fair.

“They tell you that just because you have a degree doesn’t mean you’re going to get a job and all of that stuff, so I knew it would be hard. But I didn’t know I’d be out of work for seven months,” she said.

“I was looking to apply with [DCFS and Human Rights] online anyway, but I liked being able to speak to them in person,” she said.

Omari Martin believed the fair would help him transition back into the working population after his position as an administrator and adjunct faculty member at American Intercontinental University was eliminated.

“I’m unemployed and seeking my next career opportunity. Here, employers are actually hiring and you have an opportunity to meet representatives from those companies,” said Martin, who has a bachelor’s in Accounting from Morehouse and a master’s in finance and accounting from Keller Graduate School of Management. He hopes that the fair can give him a leg-up on a pool of competition that he says is global in nature.

“The fact that my position was eliminated is reflective of the economy; outsourcing of jobs overseas has contributed to that. I’m in competition with people from all over the world,” Martin said.

That trenchant reality may be a guiding impetus for Rep. Chris Welch, who’s often solicited by companies that have their own self-interests as a priority. He believes that it’s his job to ensure that, while pursuing their own interests, those companies aren’t neglecting the interests of his constituents.

“My goal was to bring the resources available to me as a state representative to my constituents. [Companies] come to us asking for things in Springfield. I ask them what they’re doing for my community.” VFP

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