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2000 Best Practice Awards

Best of the Best Winner: Puerto Rico

Best Practice: "Rayo de Luz (Ray of Light)" in Ponce, Puerto Rico

Rayo de Luz Shines on 100+ Hurricane Devastated Residents

Ponce, Puerto Rico. The Rayo de Luz (Ray of Light) project seeks to improve the quality of life for residents of public housing in Puerto Rico through the development of interpersonal skills and improved opportunities for education and economic self-sufficiency. To expand resident opportunities in an area with limited economic opportunities, the project employs residents in nearly 40 percent of all its positions. Self-employment strategies and on-site businesses help residents attain the level of skills and leadership needed to rebuild communities still recovering from hurricane damage.

Delia Ramos/Allen Citron (c) receiving Best of the Best award from Secretary Cuomo (l) and Deputy Secretary Ramirez (r)

Based in three cities, the comprehensive two-year project assists residents in six public housing authorities. To date, approximately 1,400 residents have been targeted to receive services. More than 470 have already received individual counseling on personal needs and life skills, and 73 have been placed in jobs.

The nonprofit Sister Isolina Ferre centers (SIFC) obtained a grant from HUD’s Emergency Economic Development and Supportive Services program to launch the project. Partnerships with the Puerto Rico Public Housing Authority, private housing management firms, the Pontifical Catholic University of Ponce, the three municipal governments and private businesses provide financial and programmatic support for the project, as well as job training and employment opportunities for the residents.

To encourage resident participation in the project and overcome initial employment barriers such as lack of child care, transportation or background checks, the project held education, health and employment fairs in the targeted communities. Public agencies brought computers to the fairs to allow residents to obtain documentation required for job applications, such as health certificates, following on-site physical examinations and good conduct certificates by police department staff who conducted security checks. Clowns entertained children while parents completed the paperwork.

Project staff employed two strategies in response to a shortage of local job opportunities. The first entailed identifying residents’ musical, artistic and other talents to serve as a basis for resident-owned business. The second approach involved working with a partner to establish bakeries on the housing sites to serve as job training and employment locations.

The public housing authorities, resident councils and community leaders were involved at all stages from the initial needs assessment to implementation. As project leader, SIFC identified initial funding and began to build partnerships. SIFC then developed an organizational structure with two co-leaders sharing programmatic and administrative oversight. Coordinators supervise on-site staff teams of family advocates and “outreachers,” many of whom are residents in the targeted communities.

A survey of residents was conducted using a numerical screening system to identify those with high potential for obtaining and retaining employment. Selected participants developed individual plans for accessing services in interpersonal skill development, improvement of academic level, development of occupational skills and potential for self-employment. Participants receive assistance with developing skills for employment at banks, fast food restaurants and other industries in which identified partners provide job training and potential employment. The program includes materials in Spanish and English.

Contact: Allan Cintron, Phone: (787) 844-7720
Tracking Number: 2040
Winning Category: Geographic

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Content Archived: April 20, 2011

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