Occupy Sandy Launches Job Co-ops

The mission of the cooperatives is to create sources of employment for the many affected by Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Cristina Loboguerrero via El Diario-La Prensa)

Six months after Hurricane Sandy, affected residents in Far Rockaway, Queens, see some hope of finding work through a program of cooperatives.

Members of Occupy Sandy launched the initiative to fill the need for creating jobs for the large number of victims, residents who were left without work after the natural disaster swept through the city on Oct. 29, 2012, impacting various New York neighborhoods.

Occupy Sandy organizer Diego Ibáñez highlighted that the program is meant for families and provides a good opportunity for people to learn how to start their own business.

“They will be able to manage a business and produce jobs for other residents from their own community,” he said.

Lorena Castillo, of Far Rockaway, takes part in the cooperative program because she aspires to own her own bakery. (Photo by Cristina Loboguerrero via El Diario-La Prensa)

“We’re very enthusiastic and optimistic; there’s a huge need for employment in the Latino community since many workers in the service industry lost their jobs,” said Lorena Castillo, a participant in one of the program’s groups.

Castillo, originally from Guatemala, has been living in Far Rockaway for 24 years and dreams of having her own bakery.

“Not only do the five of us in the group like this line of work, but also the idea of being business owners. I’ll add that there isn’t a single bakery in the area.”

Along with Castillo, 40 other participants – mainly from Central America – have been training for five weeks so far, with 12 left to go.

They are learning skills in the fields of construction, carpentry, restaurant management, running a laundry shop, and entertainment, all of which are required to finish the program.

Experts from Working World, an organization that specializes in incubating collectively owned enterprises, are providing the training at the Pentecostal Church Dios de la Profecía.

The funds for setting up the businesses come from money obtained through grants, according to Ibáñez.

“Once the businesses start to become profitable, that money is paid back to be re-invested in other cooperatives.”

For Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz of the Saint Jacobi Church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a member of Occupy Sandy, the fundamental point of the cooperatives is that “more than responding to the immediate needs of the community, they are helping people in the long term.”

Occupy Sandy’s goal is to be able to build various cooperatives within a 5-year period that are controlled by the community.

“The community should own the businesses that operate in their area and not have them be controlled by people who live in other parts of the city,” stressed Ibáñez.

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