When the coronavirus pandemic struck last year, Eastside resident Jeanette Winston had to quit her job for health reasons, relying on her daughter and son to help out with bills as much as they can.

“It’s been a real struggle,” Winston said at the Frank Garrett Multi-Service Center on Sunday afternoon. “We’re just trying to make ends meet.”

Winston, 51, and her daughter D’Jarnea Axel, 28, stopped by the center to sign up for rental and utility assistance at the City of San Antonio’s Halloween Resource Fair and Vaccine Clinic. Representatives from CPS Energy, San Antonio Water System, San Antonio Food Bank, and the city’s workforce development office and Neighborhood and Housing Services Department lined the center’s gym with bowls of candy on their tables. Some wore costumes, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who dressed up as a character from the anime series “Naruto.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, dressed as Kakashi Hatake from the manga and anime series Naruto, offers a fist bump to Allison,2, at the Halloween Resource Fair Sunday.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, dressed as Kakashi Hatake from the anime series “Naruto,” offers a fist bump to Allison, 2, Sunday at the Halloween Resource Fair and Vaccine Clinic. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Axel also applied for the Train For Jobs SA program, which pays eligible participants $15 an hour while they attend training courses. The program also covers tuition at Alamo Colleges and provides wraparound services to participants, such as career counseling and referrals for child care and transportation services. Only San Antonio residents who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and can work in the U.S. are eligible for the program.

While she isn’t currently enrolled in school, Axel has completed two years of college and would like to continue her education, but right now, she is working as a home health care worker after being laid off early on in the pandemic. The job does not pay enough to cover both her and her mother’s bills, she said.

“I just want to get through this situation,” Axel said.

Hundreds of other San Antonio residents turned out Sunday, many with young children dressed in costumes. Spooky songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” spilled from the speakers while attendees ate pizza, got COVID-19 and flu vaccines, and chatted with city representatives about assistance programs.

“We are trying every method to make sure that we’re connecting impacted residents to the resources they need to assist them through what has been the most challenging period of our lifetimes,” Nirenberg said. “These resource fairs are a one-stop shop for services that families need, especially the most vulnerable families that might not have access to other opportunities.”

Initially, the Trains for Jobs SA program got off to a rocky start, but more than 12,000 people have started the intake process to enter the program, Nirenberg said. Almost 1,000 participants have been placed in jobs, mostly in the medical field, and about 4,000 people are actively enrolled in the program. Roughly 10% of the program’s participants are completing GED training.

“It sounds a little too good to be true,” said Amy Contreras, assistant to the director of the workforce development office. “We couldn’t get the word out very well at the beginning, but now it’s out.”

Contreras said the lessons city staff and its partners, such as Workforce Solutions Alamo and Project Quest, have learned from the Train For Jobs SA program will be used to streamline the process for the SA: Ready to Work program, which will roll out in 2022. In November 2020, voters approved the program funded by sales taxes and designed to train and educate up to 40,000 residents. The four-year initiative aims to provide the education and training needed to elevate workers into higher skill and wage jobs in health care, advanced manufacturing, and cybersecurity.

“It’s going to be a game changer,” Contreras said.

About 50 people stopped by Contreras’ tables on Sunday, expressing interest in the jobs training program. She said most people hear about the program via word-of-mouth but that interest in the program increased in May, when Gov. Greg Abbott announced the end of federal unemployment compensation for those who lost jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In late December, the workforce development office will start enrolling people in the Trains For Jobs SA program in the SA: Ready to Work program, but they will continue receiving their stipends. That is also when City Council will review requests for proposals for the program, Contreras said.

Workforce Solutions Alamo will hold the 10th annual Hiring Red White & You from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 4. The event is focused on providing veterans, transitioning services members, and their spouses with jobs, but the job fair is open to the public, starting at 10 a.m. The city is holding another job fair on Nov. 10.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.