The Working Community

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Brooklyn Community Housing and Services, Inc. (BCHS)
City & State:
New York
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

Brooklyn Community Housing and Services (BCHS) is committed to ending homelessness in Brooklyn. We provide safe, clean supportive housing for more than 600 formerly homeless women, children, and men each year, and help them learn how to live productively and independently, with dignity, and with hope.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

IntroductionBrooklyn Community Housing and Services, Inc. (BCHS) is committed to ending homelessness in Brooklyn. We provide safe, clean supportive housing each year for more than 600 women, children and men who had been homeless, and help them learn how to live productively and independently, with dignity, and with hope. BCHS has a budget of $6.7 million and a staff of 90.

BCHS was founded by a consortium of area clergy in 1978 in response to the Carter Administration’s call for the creation of community-based programs for the mentally ill, and now prevents homelessness for more than 300 individuals each day through its short-term, transitional and permanent supportive housing programs, and more than 600 individuals annually. The agency serves mothers with children, the severely and persistently mentally ill, and low-income adults who have been chronically homeless; case management and therapeutic, educational, vocational and recreational services are provided to all residents, along with independent living training, parenting skills training, health care, and substance abuse counseling.

The NeedBrooklyn’s poverty rate has risen to 24%, while the Borough’s average per capita income lags significantly behind City, State, and National figures (Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation). This growing economic insecurity is reflected by the fact that, between the years 2000 and 2007, the proportion of all Brooklyn residents who received Public Assistance, Medicaid, or Supplemental Security Income, rose from 23% to 37%, a steep climb for such a brief period of time (NYC Department of City Planning). In addition, many of BCHS’ own residents are unemployed when they are admitted to the agency; as many have characteristics such as a history of incarceration, mental illness, and/or substance abuse, combined with poor physical health, little education, and few marketable skills, achieving stable employment can be a significant challenge.

Use of Microsoft TechnologiesTo address the needs identified above, BCHS has created The Working Community, which offers a range of vocational services and career development resources to individuals who need personalized assistance to enter or re-enter the job market. Services are provided free of charge to over 500 individuals a year, comprised of both BCHS residents and low-income Brooklynites. The goal of the program is to enhance the skill levels and employability of Working Community participants, and Microsoft technologies play a central and essential role in this process.

Amy’s story is illustrative of the mission that BCHS strives to achieve: Amy worked in a full time job until her struggles with depression overwhelmed her. Eventually she could no longer work and became homeless, and was subsequently referred to one of BCHS’ transitional housing programs. Once stabilized in the community, Amy made steady progress and began to focus on reclaiming the life she once led. She began upgrading her employment skills by taking computer classes at The Working Community, learning the latest versions of Microsoft Word and Excel; she learned how to use Word’s formatting functions and put together an attractive new resume; she opened an e-mail account in Hotmail, refined her interviewing techniques, and began a job search through the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser. Finally, Amy had the confidence to begin going on interviews for the first time in years, and eventually found a position with a large financial company. Four years later and with her career going well, Amy felt she was ready to leave BCHS altogether and has been living successfully on her own and in the community ever since.

Like Amy, all participants in The Working Community meet one-on-one with BCHS’ Employment Specialist, who provides a range of services aimed at reducing specific barriers to employment. Participants have access to a newly renovated computer lab, which includes 10 Internet-ready computers complete with up-to-date Microsoft Office applications. Because a common obstacle faced by participants is a lack of familiarity with Microsoft applications, and little or no knowledge of the Internet or e-mail, Working Community staff focus much of their efforts on teaching participants how to use Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, in addition to how to use the Internet and Microsoft Hotmail. Internet and e-mail knowledge and access has proven vital to Working Community jobseekers in many ways – not only are basic skills in these areas required by almost all employers today, but such knowledge and access also enables thorough online job searches, the submission of online job applications, and a technologically current method to communicate with potential employers.

The BCHS Employment Specialist conducts at least 25 training sessions each year for approximately 200 participants, with an emphasis on basic and advanced computer skills. “Basic Computer Skills Training” includes 1) how to use a computer; 2) how to use Microsoft Windows, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint; 3) how to use the Internet for basic work and job search tasks; and 4) how to create and use e-mail (Microsoft Hotmail), and “Advanced Computer Skills Trainings” includes 1) advanced techniques for Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint; 2) advanced Internet and e-mail techniques (Microsoft Hotmail); and 3) databases concepts (Microsoft Access).

In addition to the core Working Community training modules, the Employment Specialist often organizes fun activities around holidays (such as Mother’s Day and Christmas) whereby Working Community participants learn how to utilize Microsoft Publisher to design appropriate greeting cards, flyers and t-shirts. This is a very popular activity and participants proudly show off their creations – and new knowledge – to their friends and families, even after the holiday has passed!

The Computer Lab is open from 9-5 daily, and also houses copiers, telephones and faxes. During 2008, over 4,000 hours of computer time was used by an average of 52 participants a month; numbers are expected to be closer to 5,000 hours of computer time in 2009 as a renovation of the Computer Lab limited use during part of 2008.

Conclusion The Working Community allows low income Brooklynites, many of whom have overcome periods of homelessness and extreme poverty, to learn how to utilize basic computer, Internet and e-mail applications so that they can search for and earn meaningful employment. With up-to-date knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel, and with a functioning Hotmail account, along with the training provided by a skilled Employment Specialist, Working Community participants greatly enhance their employability and ultimately find stable, decent paying jobs. An award from The Microsoft Impact Story Contest would help BCHS enhance and expand The Working Community program, so that even more people can move from vulnerability to independence in the years ahead.

Submission Category
Stable and Secure Technology
Project Image
Resource Room 2.JPG