More than 400 job seekers attended Hamden’s Keefe Community Center's first job fair
The Keefe Community Center, located just off Dixwell Avenue in Hamden, welcomed hundreds of job seekers on Saturday April 6, as it hosted its first job fair. Armed with their resumes and an entrepreneurial spirit, eager attendees arrived in droves. They were met by dozens of equally eager local employers excited to meet new potential employees.
The event was arranged by community service coordinator Y’Isiah Lopes, who less than a year ago was tasked with managing the Keefe Community Center and overseeing outreach projects in Hamden.
“I’ve been employed for seven months now with the town of Hamden, and when they brought me in they wanted me to do some outreach in the community,” Lopes said. “I thought it’d be a great idea to find some of the local employers along Dixwell….and get these jobs together and these employers together for the community.”
Unemployment is currently at an 18-year low nationwide, and Connecticut's unemployment rate is similar to the national average at 3.8 percent. However, according to a 2019 study conducted by the Connecticut Department of Labor, thousands of individuals in Hamden and the greater New Haven area remain jobless. Both employers and job seekers agree that events like the Hamden job fair are an effective way to close that gap.
“I think unemployment is an issue everywhere, unfortunately. I don’t think it’s just in Hamden,” Angela Vey, an officer with the Hamden Police Department said. “But I absolutely see a lot of benefit with functions like this...I know that the town of Hamden does do a lot to help people try and get jobs.”
The Keefe Community Center has long played a critical role in the town of Hamden. For years it’s served the community through its food bank, by providing shelter for displaced families and by giving assistance to individuals facing heating emergencies during the cold winter months. After taking the position of community service coordinator, Lopes sought to expand the center’s role.
“It’s great being a charitable organization, but we also have to offer something else,” Lopes said.
With this goal in mind, staff from Keefe and Hamden Adult Education organized a job fair featuring mostly employers from businesses located along Dixwell Avenue. From Marshall’s and Stop and Shop to the Hamden Police Department, dozens of organizations participated in Saturday’s event.
“Bringing employers in, especially employers like Home Depot, ShopRite, Starbucks, these national employers, I thought it would be great for the community to have the opportunity to work for them,” Lopes said.
For New Haven resident and job seeker Jatajia Copeland, the vast array of employers was a major factor in her decision to partake in the event.
“I go to CT Works in New Haven, and they told me about the job fair in Hamden today,” Copeland said. “When I saw the list of companies I decided to come. I’m not applying anywhere particular, I just applied everywhere.”
In addition to companies looking to hire, the job fair also invited representatives from employment resource organizations like the American Job Center (AJC) to participate.
“My role here today is to find qualified candidates to fill eligible jobs for local employers,” AJC representative Kevin Lawrence said. “People come to me and I register them for a job screening event at our facility. It takes place every week on Tuesday and Thursday.”
Based on attendance, there should be no shortage of qualified candidates. Lawrence explained that in the dozen or so job fairs he’s attended across the state, the usual turnout is around 75 potential employees. In just three hours, the Keefe Community Center had already drawn in 400 participants.
“A lot of employers really love the turnout,” Lopes said. “TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, they said they only came with 75 applications and they already have 150 filled out. They asked us to make more copies because they weren’t prepared.”
When asked why they thought the job fair was such as success, both employers and job seekers came to the same conclusion: it provided an opportunity to make a first impression.
“I think it gets people in and talking to people one-on-one and it gets the ball rolling really quickly because they’re accepting resumes and filling out applications right on the spot,” Vey said. “When you fill out an application online you miss that.”
Lopes echoed her sentiment, adding that taking part in a job fair also lets an applicant stand out from the throngs of online competition.
“When you go online and fill applications out, you have the challenge of 300 other people filling that same application out. By having employers here, you get more of a preferential treatment because you’re actually here,” he said.
Though this was the Keefe Community Center’s first time hosting a job fair, it certainly won’t be the last. Due to its success, Lopes hopes to make the Hamden job fair a semi-annual event.
“Six or seven employers are already committed to coming back next year,” he said. “I may actually do this twice and make it semi-annual, maybe do another in September with other employers in the Dixwell area.”