Work Today, a new program of Youth Services, concluded its 3-month pilot period in November and the organization’s executive director, Russell Bradbury-Carlin, said they plan to restart it in the spring, with a few new funders and venues needing temporary labor in the region. Serving as a new sort of temp agency, Work Today’s pilot program connected 10 individuals with daily work in Brattleboro.
The town provided initial funding and jobs through the end of October but after a winter hiatus, other employers needing temporary labor are sought if the program is to resume operations, according to Bradbury-Carlin.
“Typically we had more than 20 people in line seeking day work and had to turn away half of them away as we only had funding for 10,” said Emilie Kornheiser, Youth Services’ Director of Workforce Development, describing the popularity of the low-barrier work program among individuals who, for a variety of reasons, are not able or interested in working a 40-hour week.
The goal in creating the day labor program, Kornheiser said, was to meet people’s needs with dignity while staying in compliance with laws and labor rights. That involved looking at issues around worker’s compensation, identification and payment.
“Many prospective workers lined up in our parking lot before dawn, to increase their odds of being chosen for the work available that day,” she recalled. “It was striking to see the extent that people would go to earn a day’s wages. I was impressed by the pride individuals took in completing their projects well,” said Kornheiser. “When people were ready and able to work, they were able to make a few dollars, and when they were not, they were able to come back the next day or the next week.”
Work Today participant Joseph Hedberg often started his trek at 2 a.m. from the motel where he stays in North Brattleboro, in order to increase the likelihood of garnering one of the limited positions, despite having several broken toes which makes walking painful.
“I feel better about myself if I’m working, if I can buy myself a cup of coffee instead of relying on hand-outs,” Hedberg explained. Formerly a licensed plumber and maintenance person, he tackles some of the more complicated jobs at Work Today with obvious skill, taking pride in doing a job right.
Hedberg stated the days go quicker if he stays busy and he’s more likely to be able to maintain his sobriety, now going on two years. With AA groups now only available on-line, he also enjoys the camaraderie he finds in Work Today and the lack of a long-term commitment. “Here I have a choice to work or not, depending on how I’m feeling. No one is going to chew me out if I don’t show up,” explained Hedberg.
The workers, mostly adults, identifiable in town by their blue vests, received $15 per hour for doing seasonal tasks, custodial work, and simple municipal maintenance projects, in addition to sterilizing parking meters and crosswalk buttons, a new municipal task identified because of COVID 19. “This program fulfilled a real need, and the unemployment caused by the pandemic made it even more critical,” Kornheiser stated.
A coordinator staffed by Youth Services set people up with their jobs, trouble-shooted with employers, provided lunch and counseling services in the afternoon and participants returned back to work afterwards. Participants were paid in cash at the end of the day.
“The number one goal was to get cash into people’s pockets,” said Kornheiser. “It’s was as simple as that.”
The day labor program falls under the same structure of DemoGraphix, a mission-driven limited liability company established a year ago by Youth Services as an employment and mentor program, a youth-led screen printing business.
The town of Brattleboro, which provided much of the initial funding, considered it money well spent. “The results of the trial period are encouraging, said Peter Elwell, Brattleboro Town Manager. “We look forward to working together with the Youth Services team and community partners to refine and grow the program, not just to benefit the program participants but for the broader benefit of our entire community.”
If you anticipate having projects in the spring that need day-labor or wish to support the continuation of the program with a donation, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (802) 257-0361. For more information about participating, visit youthservicesinc.org