As a former and/or current ReServist (ReServe is an employment agency under the FEDCAP umbrella), I was invited to the FEDCAP commencement. FEDCAP is an organization whose mission statement (in a nutshell) is jobs for people, services for business. I wanted to go. FEDCAP acts as a liaison between its business sponsors such as Fairway and ADM. Not only do they underwrite many expenses, they also hire a lot of graduates from FEDCAP training.
The most moving parts of the graduation ceremony were the alumni telling their stories. One person told the story of how he was helped after he got out of prison. A woman living in a family shelter talked about the difficulty getting and keeping a job (all the speakers emphasized “keeping” a job—retention) because she suffered from a learning disability. Since she trained at FEDCAP, she was placed and working, and filled with hope that she’d be able to finally leave the shelter. She was trembling as she spoke, swept up in her emotions. I think all the graduates were strong and managed to survive. They were so grateful to FEDCAP and they wanted to succeed despite the odds.
The event was held at Harlem’s World Famous Apollo Theater on 125th Street. I’d never been there. It was beautiful, ornate gold trim and red velvet interiors. It had balconies on the side. While the attendees were being seated, the PA system issued songs and artists who’d performed there: the Jackson Five, Billie Holiday, and everyone in between.
Bill Thompson, one of many running for mayor, gave the keynote address. He praised the graduates and asked them to be role models for the community. I was impressed with how happy the graduates were. They cherished every moment that they were being feted. (There was a little problem at the end, when the person read their names before they could step up to the plate. I wondered what they were going to do when the diplomas had to be given to his/her rightful owner.) They went through real job training with a good chance of a job offer afterward from one of FEDCAP’s business partners.
One of the alumni stories was that of a home health aide caring for her client during and after Sandy hit the shore. There was no electricity or communications between the aides and the agencies they worked for. But she soldiered on and didn’t leave her post. She stayed with her client until the electricity was turned back on. In her mind there was never a thought that she would abandon her, not a thought for her own safety.