University of Chicago, city and leading non-profit start program to boost employment in mid-south neighborhoods

President Robert J. Zimmer and Mayor Richard M. Daley joined city and community leaders Tuesday to launch an innovative program to link residents in nearby neighborhoods to the entry-level jobs available on campus. (Press conference video)

The program, the Career Pathways Initiative, was organized by the University of Chicago and the University of Chicago Medical Center in partnership with the Chicago Mayor's Office of Workforce Development and The Cara Program, a leading non-profit agency, which provides intensive training and support to workers who have limited employment experience.Zimmer and Daley appeared at a press conference and afterwards Daley toured the center at 950 E. 61st St. in the Woodlawn Social Service Center on the University campus.

The University of Chicago and its Medical Center are the leading employers on the mid- South Side.New jobs are listed online.Local residents who are interested in finding jobs canalso visit the Career Pathways Resource Center. The University approached the city in order to bring workforce development to the South Side. By helping neighborhood residents find secure employment, the University intends to extend its commitment to the surrounding communities, University officials said. During the past five years, the University has invested more than $70 million in the neighborhoods - into public safety projects, partnerships with the Chicago Public Schools, programs for community planning and beautification, minority business procurement, employer-assisted housing and transportation enhancements.

"The Career Pathways Initiative enhances the University's relationship with its surrounding community," said Arnie Aronoff, Senior Director for Human Resources at the University. "The Initiative helps the University meet its workforce needs and institutional goals by expanding employment opportunities for residents of the University's surrounding neighborhoods.

"Having non-profit organizations such as The Cara Program and the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development identify and train potential applicants provides University hiring managers with a very effective way to find employees who are ready, willing and able to fill vacant and new positions."

Mike Mesenbrink, ARAMARK's resident district manager at the University of Chicago, said that the company works with the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development and the Career Pathways Resource Center to find employees who live near the University."ARAMARK is committed to its employees and the neighborhoods in which they live and work.By drawing more of our workforce from the area, we're supporting the South Side in a variety of ways, which will surely bolster the University community," Mesenbrink said. "In an area of the city with an unemployment rate of 20 percent, we are proud to be rolling out a program that meets job-seeker and key employer needs," said David Hanson, Commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development."We're working with the largest employer in the area to assure that they fill entry-level positions with qualified, pre-screened applicants and that these positions have pathways for career advancement in their departments."

"In just a few months, 17 Woodlawn and mid-South Side residents have been employed by the University of Chicago, the University of Chicago Medical Center and other employers who are excited to be a part of the Career Pathways Initiative," said Eric Weinheimer, President of The Cara Program.The Cara Program's staff of professional coaches works with employers and employees to assure the job placement is successful. It also develops training so that the employee can be promoted to one or two positions above entry-level.During 2007, The Cara Program placed 205 people in permanent jobs, including work in industries such as health care, food service, office services and facilities management.

Among the people already employed through the program is Leslie McCarter, who works in the shipping department of the University of Chicago Press.

"I work in the returns department.Books that don't get sold get shipped back, and they come back in dolly carts that we unload and sort.I love working here.I put a sign the other day on my car, 'Leslie, the Queen of Returns.'That made me feel good," said the Englewood resident.

Before coming to work at the University, McCarter completed an internship with The Cara Program's social enterprise, Cleanslate, where she was a team leader for crews who cleaned streets and parks throughout the city. Cleanslate provides neighborhood beautification services to 10 Chicago neighborhoods, including South Shore, Hyde Park, and other nearby South Side neighborhoods.

Vermetta Gonnigan, a South Shore resident, works in the Medical Center delivering food to patients."I always wanted to work at the University of Chicago and this program gave me a way to do that.I like the fact that the job is close to home.I plan to go on to school and study nutrition."

Ethel Menezes, a Hyde Park resident, will work as a food-service reliever. "I will be able to serve families whose children are in the hospital.I know it's a difficult time for them.I feel that if I can show them a smiling face and make them feel comfortable, I will have done something good for them."

The University and Medical Center's neighborhood employment initiative is committed to nearby neighborhoods on a wide range of issues, including police protection, transportation, neighborhood beautification and employer-assisted housing.

Through Mayor Daley's WorkNet Chicago, the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development (MOWD) meets the evolving workforce needs of Chicago businesses and creates training and career opportunities for Chicago residents by building strategic public and private partnerships.

For more information on MOWD, or for a referral to a WorkNet Chicago location, call 312-746-7777 (TTY: 312-746-7769) or visit

People interested in contacting the Career Pathways Resource Center may call 773- 752-0687.