Employers in the area, eager to help hurricane evacuees, have been setting up at job fairs, creating job Web sites, and helping evacuees staying at the D.C. Armory write resumes and apply for the area's open positions.
Yesterday, 75 New Orleans storm survivors took part in a job fair at the armory, where 42 employers, including Home Depot, Au Bon Pain and Black Hawk Security, interviewed them. Twenty people were hired on the spot, according to Diana Johnson, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Employment Services, which sponsored the job fair.
"All these people up here want to help, and they don't know what to do," said Terrance Caugh, owner of 321 Ashland Bistro and Wine Bar in Ashburn. He listed his restaurant and contact information on a Web site designed to hook evacuees up with restaurant jobs.
The D.C. Armory has been a magnet for local employers who think they have jobs for evacuees, 295 of whom arrived by plane one week ago Tuesday. As of yesterday, approximately 150 remained in the armory, according to the office of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).
One of them, Ross Vaughn, a 61-year-old who had lived his entire life in New Orleans, was struggling on Monday to remember his job history for Dolly Guerra, a staffing manager with CityStaff.
A Vietnam veteran, a onetime longshoreman, an offshore oil rig roustabout and most recently a maintenance man who can hang a good drywall, Vaughn, dressed in a new red and blue Buffalo Bills cap and a bright red T-shirt, said he was thinking about retirement before the storm. Instead, he decided to start a new life in a brand new city with no job, no home and no family nearby.
So much is unknown right now -- he just found the first of eight sisters he has been searching for -- that he seems determined to make any decision. So first, he will try to find a job. Any job.
He was making $12 an hour, he said, but told Guerra to put $10 on his resume. "You can always move up," he told Guerra, a New Orleans native, who was at the armory with almost 20 other recruiters to help evacuees write resumes.
Myles Gladstone, vice president of human resources for construction company Miller and Long, said he paid special attention during yesterday's job fair to how people talked about the hurricane -- if they mentioned it all.
"I was looking to see how much they would dwell on what happened or how positive they'd be about what's coming up in the future," said Gladstone, whose company last week hired two applicants from the armory as assistant engineers, outfitting them with work and personal clothes and tools.
According to the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, janitors, cleaners, food preparers, executive secretaries, child-care workers and receptionists are among the top 30 categories of jobs available in the city.
Shortly after the hurricane, Caugh told his publicist, Heidi Koontz, that he wanted to let people know he was looking for line cooks and sous chefs for his seven-month-old restaurant. "There's a wealth of unemployed people right now," he said. Two days later, Koontz launched RestaurantJobsForYou.org, a list of restaurants with open positions for hurricane victims. The list includes restaurants in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, as well as 15 restaurants in the Washington area.
It was through the Web site that Damian LeCompte, 36, who was still in Louisiana, found Caugh and decided Tuesday to leave New Orleans for good.
LeCompte had worked in a shipyard at the Port of New Orleans but also worked part time at Bayou Barn catering in Crown Point, La. Down to his last $700 from a $2,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency check, he said he saw the hurricane as his sign to make a change. "Basically my passion is to own my own restaurant," he said. "I guess this is my push to get out of state."
Caugh promised him a space at the restaurant and is trying to find him cheap or free housing for three months. After LeCompte arrives, Caugh plans to hold a fundraiser on the restaurant's patio, where LeCompte will make a Cajun feast. All the donations will help get started.
"We're going to hire him sight unseen," Caugh said. And if it's not a perfect fit, Caugh said, he will help LeCompte find another job.
Kenneth Boyd, 30, an electrician by trade ("One of the best in the South," he said), ended up on a plane with his girlfriend headed for Washington by chance. He was separated from his mother, who is now in Dallas. Boyd said that he was finally able to reach her by phone this week and that she told him to stay in Washington and make a new life for himself.
Boyd, who said he visited the District once when he was just "a little spit," said he guesses this place is home now. "All my stuff is under water. All my tools, my documents."
Jacqueline Carrington of Black Hawk Security talked to Tommy Riley, 26, during the fair, after she heard him tell an employer that he had experience working in security.
"He has a very positive attitude about everything that's happened," Carrington said, smiling, with Riley at her side. Riley talked to her about a position in their Virginia office.
Lawrence Simmons, 23, who worked as a mortgage loan officer in New Orleans, said he had strong interest from three companies. He started a telemarketing job yesterday but will consider other offers.
He said the job fair was another example of the lengths to which District residents and officials had worked to help him recover what the hurricane had lost. "For me to be alive and well and have an opportunity to work, this is wonderful," Simmons said.