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El Sol Jupiter Resource Center

February 14, 2012; Palm Beach Post; More than 9,000 workers found jobs through Jupiter's El Sol program in 2011; by Bill DiPaolo

More than 9,000 workers found jobs in 2011 at the El Sol Neighborhood Resource Center, the highest number in the last four years, according to the center's annual report.

"It shows El Sol has built a good reputation for providing good workers. It also shows the economy is improving and people are spending more money," said " said Jocelyn Sabbagh, El Sol's director.

Workers register for jobs such as landscaping, maid service and general labor. Persons seeking workers register and negotiate a salary with the worker.

Opened in 2006, the non-profit center also offers educational and vocational classes, free meals, a food pantry, health fairs and community events such as movies that are free and open to the public. The town rents the building to El Sol for $1 annually.

Workers are not asked their immigration status. On an average day last year, 103 workers came to the center on the southwest corner of Military Trail and Indiantown Road. About 25 of them got a job, according to the report.

El Sol has a $250,000 annual budget. There are three full-time employees and one part-time employee. Except for the town paying its electric bill, the 501 c 3, non-profit organization survives on donations and grants.

Highlights from the 2011 report include:

*About 23,000 free meals, about five dozen daily, were served to workers. Every day El Sol provides coffee and pastries for breakfast, and a hot meal for lunch. The food is donated by local businesses.

* The food pantry, open Tuesdays and Fridays between 2 p-.m. - 4 p.m., served about 2,400 persons.

* About 6,100 workers attended daytime English, computer and other classes. A sewing program for male and female workers teaches basic sewing skills such as hemming clothes, sewing buttons and zippers, and how to use an electric sewing machine.

* About 600 persons were referred to health services on topics such as nutrition, stress management, breast cancer, and HIV/AIDS.

* The center hosted a health fair, free meals on Christmas and Thanksgiving, an Artfest and a Talent Show.

* El Sol workers volunteered a total of about 500 hours, contributing to programs that improved the Heights neighborhood, the annual countywide Great American Cleanup and repairs to the El Sol building.

* Volunteers donated about 20,000 hours. They include bankers who teach how to set up an account, residents who teach how to fix a bicycle, lawyers who represent workers in immigration cases and students from Florida Atlantic University.

"The high number of volunteer hours shows that the town of Jupiter supports us. The residents want us to succeed," said Ed Ricci, El Sol president.

September 04, 2007; Palm Beach Post; Labor center delivers jobs, calmer streets; by ANA X. CERON.

JUPITER — Since opening its doors, El Sol has racked up a long list of milagros.

Almost daily, restaurants drop off their leftovers, which volunteers turn into elaborate lunch feasts thanks to a stove powered by another miracle - a free gas tank provided by a generous business.

Computers were donated, so men who may have spent little time in a classroom now can learn how to click a mouse.

Perhaps the most memorable miracle was Guatemalan President Oscar Berger's visit in February. Young men with cellphones took his pictures. Mothers brought their babies so they wouldn't miss it.

All of this in a year. On Thursday, El Sol, Jupiter's Neighborhood Resource Center, will mark its first anniversary.

"It shows the path one community chose to take in dealing with a problem stemming in part from failed immigration reform," said Mike Richmond, president of the El Sol volunteer group. "We're very proud of what's been accomplished here."

Last year, the center opened as a way to replace the open-air market at Center Street, where day laborers would chase after pickup trucks offering work.

It was chaos. It also was a safety hazard, and neighbors complained to the town about the trash littering the road.

A new set of rules went into effect on Sept. 6, 2006. The previous night, the Jupiter council had finalized a measure banning laborers from soliciting work in the streets. By morning, Center Street had been cleared, and El Sol, decorated with Guatemalan and Mexican flags, was brimming with workers waiting for their patrones (bosses).

Some of the men complained. They preferred Center Street because there were more jobs there. They were concerned contractors would avoid the center out of fear of immigration authorities.

Now, El Sol has more registered employers (2,577) than day laborers (1,730). Over time, the workers came to appreciate the center, saying that even if they don't find work, at least they have a roof over their heads and a free lunch.

"There's order here, there's respect here," said Sequendino, a 54-year-old native of Guatemala who used to look for work on Center Street. "Not over there. People would hit each other there."

Still, in many laborers' minds, something else has replaced their initial doubts about the center: fear. Rumors persist that immigration officials are lurking and will raid the center one day.

So, many laborers hesitate to talk to strangers, and some avoid going to the center if it is hosting a special event.

It's unclear how many of the workers using the center lack papers. El Sol's job services are limited to laborers living in the Jupiter area, but the center doesn't ask about immigration status.

Linking workers, employers

El Sol opens at 6 a.m., but rush hour starts about two hours later.

Volunteers sit at a table near a side door where potential employers check in. Staffers from Catholic Charities work a table on the other side of the center, calling out ticket numbers as laborers are chosen by lottery.

The employers explain what they're looking for, and the volunteers cross over to the lottery table to tell the workers about the offer.

Almost always, the laborer walks over to the employer, they shake hands and head out.

But the matchmaking isn't always so polite. A few employers have earned reputations among the workers of not treating them well. Some might give laborers a full day's work but deny water or lunch breaks. Others are simply difficult to work for.

Some laborers pass up an offer from these employers and wait for the next one, but eventually, someone else will take it. The process is so swift and organized that there are times when it sounds like placing an order at McDonald's.

One man walked into the center last week and quickly began making his requests: He wanted two laborers, including at least one who spoke English. If they had driver licenses, he'd offer them lots of work. But most of all, he didn't want them getting distracted working together. "They like to chat," the man said.

One volunteer says she sometimes quips, "Hey, do you want fries and a Coke with that?"

A victory for 'Jupiter 22'

The laborers who go to El Sol show up for more than work. There are English classes at night and regular parenting workshops.

Tim Steigenga, a board member for the migrant-advocacy organization Corn Maya, says the center has become a bridge for the local migrant community. Consider the Jupiter 22.

During the summer, workers at a local golf course community were fired for refusing to work an overtime shift on a Saturday. A new firm had taken over management of the course and surprised the workers with the mandate.

The laborers said they had to refuse the extra hours because many of them had other jobs to go to that day.

Labor attorney Jill Hanson - the widow of Sol Silverman, the community activist for whom the center is named - happened to be at the center when the crew arrived. She heard their story and contacted the management firm to remind officials that federal labor laws protected the workers.

The men got their jobs back and celebrated in August by singing a corrido one of them had written about the event. They dubbed themselves the Jupiter 22.

"It's the kind of thing that never would have happened before the El Sol center," Steigenga said.

The success has been a result of three organizations working together. As the major backer, Catholic Charities provided the funding to open the center in a building owned by the town. The El Sol volunteer group and Corn Maya also lease space in the building to help run things.

But getting three groups to run the center seamlessly hasn't always been easy.

When Corn Maya began running Sunday operations, laborers complained that it wasn't following the procedures Catholic Charities used the rest of the week.

Also, Catholic Charities and the El Sol volunteers have had a few conflicts, town records show. Last year, volunteers said Catholic Charities delayed the start of the computer lab. In reports filed with the town, the groups disagreed over whether there were enough volunteers to staff the center.

"There have been problems and obstacles, but we've made it work," said Richmond, head of the El Sol group.

Still, there have some surprises.

Long-term plans called for Catholic Charities to hand over the center's management to volunteers after 112to two years. Volunteers thought that wouldn't happen until 2008, but late last year the organization said it was running out of money and pulling out this summer.

With $40,000 in donations, Catholic Charities extended the deadline through December and has been working on a transition plan.

The most recent debate has been over the center's records. Citing a confidentiality policy, Catholic Charities has declined to hand over lists of employers and laborers who have registered.

"That was a known factor since the very beginning, since we started this whole process," said Thomas Bila, Catholic Charities' executive director.

"We've had to start from ground zero," Richmond said. "It was very frustrating to not get the data."

As El Sol and Corn Maya begin collecting names for their own records, they also must continue to raise money. More than $100,000 has been raisedto run the center after Catholic Charities bows out. About $140,000 is expected to be needed yearly.

The management change could mean some new programs for El Sol.

Board members have discussed importing and selling Guatemalan coffee or selling donated clothing in Central America. One volunteer would like to start a library, and there are hopes of opening a preventive health-care clinic one day.

"There's a lot of ideas on the table for the future," Steigenga said.

Perhaps there will be enough miracles for those, too.

Find this article at:

Jupiter's El Sol also rises
Palm Beach Post Editorial
Saturday, September 16, 2006

Irony always has permeated the American immigration story, so it figures that the El Sol Jupiter Resource Center would open with an ironic twist last week.

For months, as they planned the center, Jupiter officials and immigration activists worried that workers might be reluctant to show up because they feared deportation or government reprisals for illegal status. As it turned out, workers showed up in large numbers - but employers stayed away, some probably fearing reprisals if they hired illegal immigrants.

But El Sol (561-748-5177) has made significant progress in the short time since it opened. With fliers, refrigerator magnets and word of mouth, organizers have recruited more employers to use the center and have closed the gap between jobs and workers. Residents and business owners throughout Palm Beach County are hiring immigrants to do work of all descriptions - from mowing lawns to painting houses to moving furniture. "We have come a long way in just one week," says Elisa Bland, the Catholic Charities division director who oversees El Sol. "We're getting more employers and workers every day."

Just getting the center up and running is an important achievement for a community that has demonstrated the political courage to find practical solutions to a complicated problem that the federal government continues to ignore. While Washington lawmakers wring their hands and trade insults, Jupiter has put a progressive plan in motion and is making it work. By giving workers and employers a place to connect, the town can crack down on immigrants soliciting jobs on street corners. By treating workers fairly, valuing their contributions to the economy and giving them a place to find social services, the town claims the moral high ground and can use it to make Jupiter a better place. Police and building inspectors can crack down on immigrants who pack houses and violate codes without hearing complaints about heavy-handedness.

The workers who have come to the center have shown a willingness to assimilate and play by the town's rules. The center's English classes have been full. By making them part of the community, Jupiter has given immigrants reason to care about what happens to the place they're living in. El Sol has the chance to be the model for Lake Worth, West Palm Beach and cities throughout South Florida that realize the corrosive effects of ignoring a problem that isn't going away.

Find this article at: Palm Beach Post website.

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