“Alaska? You can’t be serious.”
It was a common reaction when folks on the South and West sides heard about a job opportunity in the fish processing industry in Alaska that was being offered to people in impoverished neighborhoods, including those with criminal records.
But 15 people showed up to hear more Tuesday afternoon at 6630 South King Dr., the headquarters of Project H.O.O.D., a non-profit dedicated to uplifting the disadvantaged.
Attendees watched a 15-minute orientation video on entry-level positions in the fish processing industry.
“This is challenging work, temperatures are chilly and you’ll be working around water as you prepare fish for canning, freezing or smoking, and you’ll be standing on your feet most of the time,” the narrator says, adding that work locations can be remote — away from cities and towns.
The job description: gutting fish for at least 12 hours a day for 90 days straight — no days off. Hourly wage is $10.25 — with plenty of overtime at time and a half. Room and board will be provided for $10 a day at a dormitory type setting.
Copper River Seafood is the employer and its officials are trying to fill seasonal jobs, said Tawanna Cotten, employment director at Project H.O.O.D.
“Will we be able to go out and see things in Alaska?” asked one young person after watching the video.
”You’ll probably be tired,” Cotten said.
Lavondale Glass, 45, of Lawndale, was excited.
“I think it’s a good opportunity and a good chance for people in this neighborhood to check things out on the other side of world, for a lot of people who probably haven’t been past 79th Street, and get a paycheck doing it,” he said.
“But a lot people are scared of what they don’t know,” continued Glass, whose work history consists mostly of construction gigs.
“If you really want a job and want to change, you might have to shovel doo doo....It’s peace of mind, too. You don’t have to worry about nobody trying to kill you or you going jail, so why not?”
Pastor Corey Brooks, CEO of Project H.O.O.D. said he plans to make the trip to Alaska and do the same work for one week.
“I’m not just sending a group of people to Alaska without going with them and making sure everybody is OK,” he said, noting that additional meetings to recruit workers are in the works. Brooks hopes to fill 50 positions.
“Work and people working creates hope, it creates enthusiasm, it creates self esteem,” Brooks said. “And the six percent unemployment rate in this country isn’t the reality in communities on the West and South Side. It’s much higher.”
Donations to Project H.O.O.D., Brooks said, would help cover upfront travel expenses, and perhaps help cover expenses for any unexpected trips home if things don’t work out.
“We’re aware there are some people who may not like it or may not be able to tough it out,” he said, adding that the concept of recruiting workers from impoverished black communities in Chicago to work in Alaska was novel.
Brooks heard about it through a partnership with the American King Foundation, which is based out of Atlanta.
The foundation advertises “No criminal background checks” in online posts about the job opportunity.
“But what about the people with no criminal history who might be concerned about working with all the people with criminal histories,” said Andi Scales, 34, of Englewood.
The concern wasn’t overwhelming. Scales, along with 12 other people at the meeting, filled out applications.
The three month contract job would start Sept. 1.
“I’ll be home for Christmas, but I’ll smell like fish,” joked Scales, who wants a change of pace from working retail at a mall.
For Rashidi Daugherty, 26, of Englewood, work isn’t going to be the hard part. He’s worked in warehouses for years.
“The hardest part is going to be getting on an airplane. I’ve never been on a plane,” Daugherty said.
The opportunity to save money or send money to relatives was a major selling point at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I could use a car,” Daugherty said.