By CLAUDETTE RICHARDS and HEATHER WRIGHT — How can more Hyattsville and Prince George’s County residents — especially those in need of a second chance — find employment? This question was the topic of a breakfast meeting in June 2017 between Employ Prince George’s President and CEO Walter Simmons and Hyattsville Mayor Candace B. Hollingsworth.
The plan and purpose
After more than two years of meetings, curriculum development, information sessions and trainings, the City of Hyattsville’s Clean and Safe Ambassador Team is a response to that question. The Clean and Safe Team program has two main goals: 1) to provide a pathway to meaningful employment for those who have struggled in the past and 2) to provide the city’s Department of Public Works with well-trained employees to support public health and safety.
According to a February 2019 Memorandum of Understanding between the city and Employ Prince George’s, the program “is a pilot initiative intended to demonstrate the effectiveness of hyperlocal work crews to advancing public health and safety.”
Eventually, the Clean and Safe Team will consist of four full-time and three part-time employees of Hyattsville’s Department of Public Works. According to city documents, the seven-member team will be based in the West Hyattsville commercial corridor, and their job will be to “greet residents and visitors, pick up trash and debris, and serve as liaisons to report issues and concerns as needed.”
Fall 2019 recruitment materials for the Clean and Safe Team training sought out “returning citizen[s]” or those who had “background issues.” According to Jeffrey Swilley, executive vice president of Employ Prince George’s, the program aims to provide “gainful employment for these residents of Prince George’s County who were reentry customers.” Reentry in this case refers to those who have been former offenders and are reentering their community.
“This program in itself is built to help people who have failed in other areas and [is] basically putting a hand on their shoulder and letting them know that you are not walking through life on your own and that you have two entities: the City of Hyattsville and Employ Prince George’s, who are dedicated to helping you reach your goal,” said Simmons.
The pilot program
The inaugural 12-week training program began mid-October and will end Jan. 8. According to Patricia Blackwell, director of Job Seeker Services for Employ Prince George’s, of the eight candidates who began the training course five remain, two of whom are Hyattsville residents. One candidate was hired for another job in the middle of the program. Director of the Department of Public Works Lesley Riddle saw this as a success, saying, “That is really our hope — to find permanent employment [for participants], and one person was able to find a permanent job, which is a really good thing.”
Employ Prince George’s pays candidates $12 per hour to participate in the training, which includes both classroom and hands-on instruction in customer service, landscaping, pruning, mulching, litter pickup and snow removal, as well as other public works responsibilities. After successfully completing the program, participants receive a Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) course completion card.
Hollingsworth said, “Employ Prince George’s and our Department of Public Works team worked together to design the program that would make it strong on the workforce development side and in line with the city’s expectations for employees.”
Most importantly, people who successfully complete the program receive employment with the city’s Department of Public Works.
According to Riddle, four of the five participants in the inaugural program were to be offered a position with the Clean and Safe Team, while another was being considered for a different public works position. Vivian Snellman, director of Human Resources, said that new Clean and Safe Team members would start in January at $13.98 to $14.83 an hour, depending on their level of experience.
Riddle described how impressed she was with each of the original eight participants, saying, “Their attitude, their quality and ability were excellent.” She continued, “Our last five participants are stellar. They’ve done an absolutely fantastic job.” Riddle expects several of the current candidates to move quickly into supervisory positions and described how, even during the training, they already felt like her staff.
Vernice González, manager of Job Seeker Services with Employ Prince George’s, said that the program participants felt valued by the city and that they were already part of the staff. She said, “One of the participants said, ‘We are essential. We are essential employees; we’re here when it rains and it sleets,’ and he felt, ‘Wow, they really need us.’”
David White, a 59-year resident of Hyattsville, said he was informed of the program after he applied for a seasonal grounds job with the city. He liked the idea of working close to home and giving back to Hyattsville. When asked about his goals after finishing the program, White responded, “To do the best job I can for the city. And if any opportunities present themselves, maybe I can advance.”
After program graduates are hired, Employ Prince George’s will track their progress and assign them a career consultant for at least one years’ time, according to Swilley.
Both Riddle and Swilley expressed how they valued the partnership between the city and the county that allowed the creation of this program. Swilley noted, “From Employ Prince George’s standpoint, we were excited and pleased by the City of Hyattsville’s steady commitment to designing the program, implementing the program and realizing these outcomes.”
Another recruitment and training cycle will be necessary to fully staff the Clean and Safe Team. Riddle said that she was looking forward to the next class and to “this cohort’s gainful employment with the City of Hyattsville in the beginning of January.”
Both city and Employ Prince George’s staff are excited about the program and hope that other municipalities consider adopting the program. Riddle has been talking to other public works directors about its success. Swilley added, “And I can’t say it enough, as well: we’re very excited about replicating this program within those other municipalities.”
González concurred, “This was a great opportunity for Prince George’s County reentry participants, and this is a wonderful opportunity for blended learning in the partnership, so I think all around it was very successful. Duplicating it in other municipalities would be a benefit not only to the county but also to the rest of the municipalities.”
“It goes without saying that we are positioned to help change lives and improve the quality of life and of households … . That was always the ultimate goal,” said Swilley.
Hollingsworth described some of her hopes for the program in an email, emphasizing the benefits to the community and the city’s Department of Public Works. “I expect to see increased satisfaction with the appearance of our commercial corridors as evidenced through feedback from residents and business owners,” she said. “Over time as the employees gain more skills, we may be able to see increased productivity from our already superstar public works team.”
She added, “The best outcome for me would be [that] our daily commuters, particularly those around the Hamilton Street corridor, will look forward to seeing the Clean and Safe Team and develop a great relationship with each of the ambassadors.”