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Community Spotlight: Old Algiers Main Street Pilots Workforce Training Project

September 8, 2022 | Community Spotlight: Old Algiers Main Street Pilots Workforce Training Project | By Amanda Lanata, Assistant Director at Louisiana Main Street | 

Tout de Suite Café, a Main Street business for almost 20 years. Photo credit: Kim Summerlin.

Note: This article was previous published by Louisiana Main Street on their Facebook page, and will be published in their inaugural e-newsletter.

“We’re supporting people and small businesses at the same time,” said Aaron Jackson of Old Algiers Main Street Corporation. “It’s not just about the places, it’s about the people too.” Founded in 1719, the Old Algiers neighborhood sits across the river from the French Quarter. Long seen as an affordable enclave for artists and creatives—over the last few years, housing costs were skyrocketing. Jackson and the Main Street organization recognized that many residents struggled to stay in their community. They wanted to create a job training program in a field that had few barriers to entry but opportunities for advancement. The project was dubbed #EquityRising.

“In our community, economic equity is huge,” said Linetta Gilbert, vice president of the Old Algiers Main Street Board of Directors. “We settled on a neighborhood-based approach—providing opportunities for people to live and work in the neighborhood.”

Advance Nursing Training

They found a project partner down the street: Advance Nursing Training, a nursing school started by Melanie McCrary in 2014. McCrary grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and went on to be a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) for 9 years. The healthcare field provided opportunities for her, so she started the school to help others. It’s a small business that struggled to get start-up financing, a common experience for women-owned and minority businesses. However with assistance from the Lift Fund, McCrary now employs seven people, with 10 to 25 students in each cohort.

She is not only interested in her students’ careers, but in their lives. “Every job I’ve had in the past has been building to today. Every hardship made me have empathy,” said McCrary. The curriculum includes courses in life skills and homeownership, as well as a credit “reboot” and entrepreneurship mentoring.

Several students have been involved with the justice system. “I believe in second, third, fourth chances,” said McCrary. Other schools are cautious about taking those students, but as long as they meet certification rules, McCray will accept them. “If somebody didn’t give me a chance, I wouldn’t be here. It’s important to embrace students that have those issues.”

“We’ve changed so many lives.”—Melanie McCrary, Advance Nursing Training founder & #EquityRising partner

Recruiters from all of the major hospitals regularly visit the school—all students have jobs upon graduation. The Board of Nursing emails McCrary every day, asking how many students are in the cohorts. They are meeting a critical need in Louisiana: the nursing shortage.

#EquityRising supports tuition and provides a stipend, allowing the students to attend fulltime. Since fall 2020, the project has supported 30 students in six cohorts. They go on to get well-paying jobs with benefits—and stay in Old Algiers. The Main Street organization received funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Baptist Community Ministries, and Greater New Orleans Foundation.
“The Old Algiers Main Street Program creates significant employment opportunities for residents, connecting people to careers needed in our city. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is proud to support this organization as they help women and families realize their dreams through medical training and certification in highly in-demand fields that provide a career pathway to living wages and professional growth and development,” said Kathryn Parker, W.K. Kellogg Foundation program officer. “For children to thrive, their families have to be able to support them and their communities need to be equitable places of opportunity. This program will help support both of those goals.”

A Student

Born and raised in Algiers, Chidola Harris was surprised to find a nursing program “right here where I’m from.” She more than doubled her income through the program, moving from an unlicensed technician to a CNA. She’s now taking the next step in her career: the licensed practical nurse program.

“We want to build wealth in this generation and the next two generations.”—Linetta Gilbert, vice president of the Old Algiers Main Street Board of Directors

Old Algiers Main Street Corporation is building on the success of the #EquityRising partnership. They are completing proposals to fund the expansion, as well as wrap-around services like childcare. Jackson is also working to establish a similar training partnership for the film industry. Old Algiers is home to two film studios and the neighborhood is a popular filming location. Job training in film would help even more people being able to live and work in Old Algiers.