POINCIANA – In the midst of drenching rain, in terrible weather, Wendy Farrell nevertheless saw something wonderful: a genuine glimmer of hope.
On Thursday, Sept. 22, Farrell arrived early at the Poinciana Community Center, where a information job fair has been scheduled for that evening. By mid-afternoon, it was obvious turnout at the event would far exceed their initial expectations, despite a heavy rainstorm that started around 5:30.
“That’s why we opened the doors at 5 o’clock,” Farrell said. “It was like a hurricane. Everywhere was flooded. We started letting them into the Community Center, and then said, ‘Hey, let’s start pushing them through.’ “
Farrell is a member of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, which sponsored the informational job fair. It was designed to help get Poinciana residents prepared for what are expected to be up to 7,000 construction jobs coming to the community, starting next year, on a host of new projects that include construction of the community’s first hospital.
The event wasn’t a job fair, but an opportunity for the PEDA members to inform the public about those jobs, what they would need to apply for and qualify for one of them, and to offer them help on drafting a resume. And as Farrell noted, their initial hope to attract at least 100 residents got dashed very quickly.
“It all kind of started in the morning,” she said. “The Community Center started getting phone calls and people were turning up all day to find out what it was. By about 3 o’clock, we figured out our wish for 100 people would probably be exceeded. We printed out 500 applications and they all went. Most of us reckoned at least 600 people showed up.”
That huge turnout, Farrell said, was “kind of good and bad. It’s good that so many people showed up, but it’s bad that the need is so strong.”
On the other hand, if the informational fair accomplished one thing, she said, it’s that it may have given all of those 600 residents, many of them unemployed or underemployed, a sense of hope.
“It was a very humbling experience when you’ve got people thanking you for giving you hope,” she said. “That’s unbelievable … that’s unreal. They were just so grateful for what we’re trying to do, to get people ready, willing and able to work. We can’t guarantee anybody a job, but we want to make sure everybody is ready. We can get you trained and get your resume sorted, and then it’s up to you.”
PEDA was formed several months ago, initially as an effort to ensure that of the major construction projects on the way, a good percentage of the jobs would go to qualified Poinciana residents rather than get subcontracted to people living outside the community.
Poinciana, a community of more than 80,000 people that cuts across Polk and Osceola counties, grew tremendously in the past decade, as the 10 villages that make up this community experienced a surging building boom.
But when the housing market crashed in 2008, Poinciana was hit hard, and today the community has a high unemployment rate and an equally rising home foreclosure rate.
The community is badly in need of an economic boost, but relief is coming next year on a variety of fronts. Construction is expected to begin by next spring on Poinciana’s first hospital, as well as an emergency room facility and medical arts building, being built by Osceola Regional Medical Center of Kissimmee.
The state is also building a station in Poinciana for the SunRail light rail system, a 61-mile long commuter rail line from Debary to downtown Orlando, which ends at Poinciana.
Osceola County commissioners are also expected to soon approve construction of the Poinciana Parkway, a toll road that would connect the community more conveniently to Interstate 4.
That’s a lot of future construction jobs on the way, which is why PEDA organized the informational fair with the theme, “Are You Ready?”
Members of the alliance used the event to discuss the construction projects on the way, let participants know what they needed to do to qualify for those jobs, offer help with resume writing and interview techniques, and highlight additional training opportunities available in the region.
They also plan to sponsor a job fair on Jan. 19 in the community, and by the end of the year, the alliance will reach out to the contractors that will be hiring people to work on these projects.
But for now, it was clear the informational fair was a huge success, said Fernando Valverde, a member of Poinciana Residents for Smart Change, a group working to improve the community.
“Everyone involved has to be congratulated,” he said. “The number of attendees was exceptional, but they reflected the sad reality of their frustrations and despair. This was without a doubt the largest event so held in the Community Center, and a favorable example of what can be done with dedicated teamwork.”
Farrell agreed, saying “We had a lot of people there looking for any job, and we now have the task of making sure all those registrations get put into our (computer) system. But for me it was a very humbling experience to have people so grateful for this. We didn’t recognize how significant the need was. We said it all along, there are a lot of jobs we need in Poinciana, and now that’s justified.
“Now we need to show we’ve got the potential,” she added. “We’ve got all the positive things to make this community great, and it all starts with hope.”
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