Behind Trenton City Hall was transformed yesterday into a small job fair for returning citizens and Trenton residents.

Dr. Adela Ames, Director of Health and Human Services for the City of Trenton, explained that today was a soft open to try and bring job applications to those citizens.

“We have applicants who are returning citizens… but it is open to everyone…more specifically, to those with criminal backgrounds, to apply for jobs at Amazon,” Dr. Ames said.

Alongside were other human services like a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site hosted by the City of Trenton and a food pantry hosted by Returning Citizen Support Network (RCSN), a network of formally incarcerated persons dedicated to community work. John Harrell, the founder of the network, explained that there are three things most re-entry citizens need when coming out of prison.

“Many times, folks need employment, housing, and food. So we supply food, we look for housing, and we look for employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated people and their families or communities,” Harrell said.

He was out yesterday handing out food like sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, carrots, brown rice, and even goodie bags for the kids. He explained that these programs are helpful. However, they need to be run by former inmates who know the struggles that those just coming out of prison have.

“We understand this struggle. We spent time in the cell block. We raise our children in visiting rooms. We watched our parents get old and die while we were incarcerated. Now we’re home and determined to make a difference in the community…So it’s a very important concept for folks to honor, respect and support,” Harrell said.

Racha Barlow is the coordinator for The re-entry Program under the Health and Human Services Department. She is a former inmate.

“I believe everybody deserves a second chance. I am a second chance citizen. So if I did it, anyone can do it. It’s very important to know life is not over because you made a mistake, that you still need to be able to come out and get a job and be productive in our society,” Barlow said.

She helped put the job fair on and is looking to the future with optimism as she plans more job fairs across the city of Trenton. She is even looking to do expungement rallies to help re-entered citizens clear their old records and find work.

“That’s why I’m excited because I need people to understand that the City of Trenton has not forgotten that people need our job opportunities and that the city is behind them,” Barlow said.

Dr. Ames expanded on that, saying they were looking to partner with other agencies to create a more diverse fair for residents to explore.

“It’s going to expand as we go further,” Dr. Ames said. “We’re looking at jobs that can be relatable to…those who have criminal backgrounds…so looking at those agencies, what positions they can offer, and we don’t want it to be gender bias. We’re looking at it across the board for everyone.”

Today, the focus was on Amazon as they help 70 people apply for entry-level positions. Yesterday afternoon, the City of Trenton posted on Facebook that all 70 positions were filled and no applicants were turned away. Melissa Fox, an engagement specialist for Amazon, works on establishing relationships with municipalities like Trenton and helps set up job fairs like this one.

“It’s extremely important because there’s a lot of people out there that are currently in need, you know, prices of everything are going up and we want people to know that Amazon is here to support you in any way. We have very competitive wages with some of our facilities starting off at $21 an hour. We just want people to really know that we’re here to support you. We’re here to encourage you in anything that you want to do,” Fox said.

This was a great way to apply for positions for Trenton residents and returning citizens.

“I think it’s good. It’s showing progress,” said Wallace Smith, a Trenton resident who came to the job fair that day. “We need more like this, more things like this, more events that help the city out. Let the citizens know that you can help and help them, and you show them that you care. They’ll turn out for it,” Smith said.

At noon, Mayor Reed Gusciora attended a quick press conference with Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli.

“To today’s attendees,” Mayor Gusciora said, “we wish you the best of luck, and your city is proud to watch you embark on this new chapter and offer a guiding hand.”

He thanked Assemblyman Verrelli for his help with securing funding from the state legislature to fund the Re-entry Program. The funding will last two years and provide the money needed to create programs like yesterday.

“A lot of good things are gonna come from it. When I worked, and I interviewed people… I always said it didn’t matter if you came from jail or Yale. If you want to pursue a career, you can start right here. And I think it’s a great start,” Verrelli said.