By David Kluesner
After about 15 minutes on a PATH train from the city to Newark, you can’t help but notice remnants of New York and North Jersey’s industrial past. Abandoned factories and scarred tracts of land amid the marshlands and mounds of earth resembling old landfills. After crossing the Hackensack River, off to the left, you see the old Diamond Alkali Superfund site in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood. Perched along the Passaic River, the site is a mere patch of gravel covered property with potted Christmas trees. It’s innocent looking enough, but it’s considered to be one of the worst dioxin sites in the country. After passing the site, on the approach to Newark Penn Station, you can’t help but notice the New York Red Bulls new “futbol” stadium. It’s the new, emerging in the shadows of the old. On February 13 this PATH took me to the offices of the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark to visit the 15 candidates that are going through the Passaic River Superfund Jobs training program, a national EPA jobs training initiative that is new to our Region. Fifteen candidates were selected from more than 500 applicants. Twelve of them who graduate on March 1 will get jobs working on the cleanup of river sediment contaminated by the site decades ago.
These 15 bright, eager unemployed or under employed residents had to endure multiple tests, orientation sessions and a day of tryouts to be selected. Some have pasts filled with challenges and bad choices. All of them need a job and most really need a second chance. One 58-year- old candidate told the class that when he got the call that he was selected to go through the training he sat down on his sofa and cried, “Who would hire me, a 58- year- old, unemployed man with a past. There are guys here far younger than me?” Later that day, on Day One of training, a 22- year- old Newark resident told his classmates “You know what I like about this class? I get to be around older people. Not the 20-somethings I always hang with. You older guys have so much wisdom that we younger guys could benefit from.” One of the 50-somethings replied, “Do you know when the last time someone told me that I had value? A long, long time ago.” Bringing these local jobs to Newark residents is not only giving them a second chance, its bringing together the new with the old.