For Bennie Khamneh, there is no better feeling than changing someone’s life, no matter how small the change. Knowing she could help one person find a job, feed their family in the middle of a food desert and regain their independence was all Khamneh needed to join the Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley as the food pantry and community resource coordinator.
“They drive me crazy, but I love it,” she said.
The Hispanic Center in South Bethlehem is one of several local organizations that have played a vital role in helping residents find middle class jobs that are needed to maintain Lehigh Valley’s economic growth. Whether residents have recently lost their job or they know someone who needs help finding employment, the Hispanic Center has built a community simply by word of mouth.
The center has formed strong relationships with local temp agencies such as Career Link, CACBB and the Sands Casino, giving clients the opportunity to meet with potential employers at job fairs. During the process of finding employment, the center helps clients connect with resources they need sustain health benefits, apply for food stamps and seek housing.
Fernanda Ferolie, the center’s community resource coordinator, believes most of the unemployment in the local area is due to a language barrier and lack of transportation access. For many local residents who are unable to afford a car, getting from Bethlehem to the warehouses on Route 100 every day is nearly impossible.
Because the vast majority of the Bethlehem community is Hispanic, the language barrier becomes an obstacle for employment. Ferolie said many clients come from other countries and have no way of communicating or finding a job within the community.
Though individuals of various backgrounds and ethnicities seek help at the center, most of the organization’s clients are drawn to the large Hispanic client base and the employers who speak their native language.
“You see Hispanic Center and you say, ‘Hey that’s my kind of people!’” Khamneh said. “Especially when you’re looking at the older generations, they tend to stay within their comfort zones.”
Despite their background or situation, Khamneh works from the beginning with her clients.
“We start at the very base of things,” Khamneh said. “A lot of times what our first question is, ‘Do you have a resume? Do you know what a resume is?’”
She helps them create and update resumes and holds skill-building workshops before she reaches out to recruiters and organizes job fair events. Over the past three weeks, she has helped 16 people find employment at the Sands Casino because of an event.
“The proof is in the pudding,” said Khmaneh on the organization’s success. “I couldn’t sit here and tell you otherwise.”
Note: A sidebar to this story about unemployment in the Lehigh Valley can be found here.