The Charlottesville City Council was briefed Monday on the status of an effort to connect the chronically unemployed with career-ladders jobs.
Green Dot Charlottesville is a for-profit initiative that seeks to increase the overall income of city residents by helping to empower people who currently have few employable skills.
“The first part is to provide a platform for people to have work and to learn a certain trade,” said Bernard Whitsett, one of Green Dot’s organizers. “The second part would be a platform for people to then take it from not working for someone, but then developing their own business.”
Maps from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey use the color orange to depict census tracts with the lowest median family incomes. Green is used to show those areas with higher incomes.
“A family of three — a single mother and two children — requires over $25,000 a year to survive in Charlottesville,” said Jennifer Rhoades, of Richmond-based Glave and Holmes Architecture. “Nineteen percent of families in Charlottesville do not earn this much income a year.”
Rhoades is a member of the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects’ Class of 2012 Emerging Leaders in Architecture program. The 15-member group has spent the last several months following up on the September 2011 Orange Dot Report, which called for ways to help families become more self-sufficient.
The ELA group identified the site of the former Frank Ix & Sons textile factory between Elliott and Monticello avenues as a starting point to focus new investment because of its proximity to many of the neighborhoods that currently skew orange.
Frances Lengowski, another member of the ELA group, said the creation of a public plaza at Ix could serve as a place for markets, festivals and small concerts. Other ideas would be to create a community kitchen, a space for business incubators and training facilities.
“These spaces can be the engine for a successful Green Dot Charlottesville,” Lengowski said.
The kitchen, in particular, could help support the creation of several fledgling catering companies whose owners are graduates of the Community Investment Cooperative.
City Councilor Dede Smith wanted to see if research has been conducted to see if Charlottesville can support a commercial kitchen.
“Caterers are a bit like lawyers in this town,” Smith said. “We have a lot of caterers and I would hate to just tell people that we’re training them for jobs and the jobs aren’t there.”
Ralph Brown, a chef with many years of experience in area restaurants, said there is an opportunity for more catering positions for people who have not graduated from culinary programs at either the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center or Piedmont Virginia Community College.
“In between, there’s a whole lot of folk [for whom] their needs aren’t being met,” Brown said. “We’re talking about a program … that will not only provide short-term job training, but will change the industry itself in terms of the kind of employees you will have.”
Councilor Kathy Galvin said the work done by the ELA class would go a long way to helping get Green Dot Charlottesville off the ground. She added that she also supports the entity as a for-profit cooperative.
“This is to be independent of government assistance,” Galvin said. “It is to build resiliency in the individuals that are in that company and it is to share the work, as well as the benefits.”
Councilor Dave Norris said the Green Dot Charlottesville initiative will not be successful without direct collaboration with its key stakeholder.
“[They] are the low-income families and low-income residents that this initiative is designed to empower and uplift,” Norris said. “Make sure they are getting a seat at the table, as well.”
Toan Nguyen, one of the organizers of Green Dot Charlottesville, said the group is raising funds to write a business plan. They also plan to travel to other cities where similar initiatives have had success, such as Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperative Initiative.
“From there, we’re going to involve the whole community in writing the business plan and then what will happen is, hopefully, we’ll get an investor to invest in the project,” Nguyen said. “We’re very confident we can make money with this enterprise.”