CHICAGO – When Pastor Corey Brooks came down from the rooftop of a motel 10 years ago and began his Project H.O.O.D. community center on the second floor of his church, he immediately focused on creating employment opportunities. He wanted to educate the youth to become employable, transform unemployable adults into employable citizens and give those who were already employed the skills and resources to seek better employment, if they chose to do so. What better way to fight poverty and violence than by creating employment opportunities?
One of the gangsters that the pastor converted to the straight path, Varmah Voker, said he did not miss the gang life where he was making over $6,000 a day.
"I don’t have to watch my back from the police, the stickup man, or just being a part of a gang," Voker said. He now oversees a fleet of luxury cars, including Bentleys, for Uber. "I feel like I’m free now," he said.
The key to creating employment opportunities for the pastor has been to secure relationships with recruiting firms across Chicago. He knows that many such companies may overlook his part of town. That is why he reaches out to let them know that there is talent to be had.
"We’re a recruiting and talent acquisition solutions provider," Massucci said. "I work with a variety of companies on a national basis, but with a heavy emphasis in Chicago, and we help companies hire great talent."
The pastor appreciated Massucci’s visit to the rooftop, probably more than he realized. When a community like the South Side has been ignored for so long, it needs relationships with these types of companies to increase opportunities for its people.
Project H.O.O.D. is "a great program," Massucci said. "I lived my whole life in Chicago … I'm passionate about the area and I think there's some phenomenal people here … I think it's an opportunity to really help people, help find opportunities."
Massucci added that there was never a better time than now.
"It’s really become a hot market," he said. "Companies are hiring across the board. There’s a shortage of people across all fields, across all industries, and companies are really struggling to find good talent." The pastor nodded along. "Telling us about the opportunities, giving people in our community a chance to be accountable for themselves, a chance to move into the workforce, a chance to do things that they would not normally have, I really think that can make a difference."
In an area where so many kids see gangsters as the only "successful" adults around and gang banging as the only viable path forward, the pastor works every day to prove that is not true.