The Pit is what people call the run-down recreation complex at 51st and Reno Streets in West Philly.
It's where youngsters go to play basketball and hang out, but it's also a dead-end street where all too often, dreams wind up dying. But if things go as planned Friday evening, it will become a place of hope and opportunity, even if only briefly.
Philadelphia's Southwest Police Division will stage a mini-job fair on a corner outside the Mill Creek Recreation Center. Picture a traveling job fair that will move among four heavily populated corners in West and Southwest Philly, with 45-minute stops at each. Mill Creek will be the final stop, at 9 p.m. Prospective employers will be looking to fill at least 100 jobs — 100 jobs!
I love that the department is taking job openings and training programs directly to those who most need them. Organizers say prospective employers will be "returning-citizen friendly," meaning those with criminal records won't be immediately disqualified. Although there will be a heavy police presence, I've been assured that officers won't be checking for outstanding warrants.
For callback interviews, the founder of a nonprofit called Be a Great You will be at each location to make sure applicants have appropriate business attire.
Parents, if you're reading this, gather up all the out-of-work men and women you know. Insist they go.
It could change their lives. Mine was changed by a job fair. It was years ago, and I was ordered to go by one of my college professors. I went not knowing what to expect, and wound up meeting a recruiter who hired me for my first real job. If I hadn't been pushed, I would have missed out.
That's why I feel so strongly about this effort.
The inaugural event, which is called Turning a New Corner, gets underway at 6 p.m. at 60th and Spruce Streets. Tables will be set up and laptops will be connected to help applicants apply for jobs at places such as Fresh Grocer and ShopRite or connect with organizations such as the National Workforce Opportunity network, which provides job readiness training and employment search assistance.
Then, just before 7, police will transport the employers by van and convoy them to the next corner, 66th and Greenway Streets.
That will be followed by a stop at 66th and Callowhill Streets from 8 to 8:45. The fourth and final stop will be at 51st and Reno Streets from 9 until 9:45 outside the Mill Creek Recreation Center. Refreshments will be served.
"We realize that some persons who may hang out at 52nd and Market may not feel comfortable with going to 60th and Spruce for various reasons," said Officer G. Lamar Stewart, divisional community relations officer for Southwest Police Division, on Thursday.
He came up with the idea while working as a patrol officer in the University City and 18th Districts.
"I started to hear a consistent theme. 'I need work. I need opportunity. I need to feed my family.' It was as a result of those encounters that this idea was birthed," he said.
Then, nearly two months ago, Stewart got promoted and decided to implement his concept. It's being done in conjunction with the local chapter of the National Black Police Association.
It's a really good idea.
In the months ahead, the plan is to rotate to different corners in West and Southwest Philly on the first Friday of each month. And if things go well there, the program should expand to other parts of the city.
Once Stewart gets the inevitable kinks out of it, I hope the program does just that.
I am not naive. I know you can't help everyone. But a lot of the young men hanging on corners really want to work. The least we can do is try and meet them halfway.