For immigrant women’s co-op, best praise is imitation

Across the country and world, worker cooperatives have emerged as a tool to spur economic development among immigrants, and 2012 has been declared the United Nations’ International Year of Cooperatives.

Here in New York City, Home Reporter News recently profiled a co-op based in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, which has become a model for other co-ops citywide. The Center for Family Life, a Sunset Park social services organization, began its first worker cooperative back in June 2006 with a group of women who attended the center’s ESL classes, and wanted to open their own business.

Now, five years later, the women’s cleaning co-op, Si Se Puede! (We Can Do It!), stands alone, and has allowed members to support themselves and even hire an office manager.

While the all-women cooperative prides itself on being a self-sufficient business that does quality work, the members also recognize the co-op’s importance in their community.

In addition to taking charge of her own future through her work, Hernandez says she believes in the ability of the co-op model to help others. “The work we’re doing in co-op development, I believe it’s very important in the community,” she said. “I want to give back to the co-op as much as I’ve gotten from it… I want the growth of co-ops so [more] people have the opportunity for good jobs and a better life.”

A cooperative’s potential to help local communities has caught the eye of politicians.

Elected officials such as Councilmember Sara González and Council Speaker Christine Quinn have taken notice, both pledging their support for expanding the co-op models as a way to create economic development in immigrant communities.

“I recognize these women as my neighbors and I’m delighted they have found a way to become successful while helping others in their own neighborhood,” said González.

The success of Si Se Puede! has energized the co-op movement across the city.

The co-op has even inspired two others, supported by CFL: a childcare co-op Beyond Care! and an elderly care co-op, Golden Steps.

CFL will also be helping to create a NYC Network of Worker Co-ops and be part of Quinn’s goal of funding two more co-ops next year – one between CFL and the Urban Justice Center, and one in Queens. The only other NYC co-op incubator is the Greenworkers in the Bronx.

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