From the Frontlines 

Strolling down 18th Street in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, it’s nearly impossible to miss the artistic and cultural footprints left to be admired throughout the centuries. Pilsen has been the bedrock for newly-arrived immigrants since the 1840’s. The streets of Pilsen are paved with years of hope, hard work, and dreams. In 2024, Pilsen is once again home to a new wave of migrants – at a pace rarely seen in the past. And waiting for them with career resources to achieve the seemingly unachievable as they settle into new lives is National Able Network’s American Job Center in Pilsen. 

The American Job Center welcomes hundreds of job seekers throughout the month. Each and every one is unique in their career journey. “We meet people where they are in the process,” says National Able Network’s Program Manager, Daniela Cueva, “We have orientations and job search resources in Spanish, Spanish-speaking staff, access to computers, and much more.” The need for job search help is high, and the need for Spanish-language job search help is even higher. Recent estimates state that only 13 percent of migrants in the city’s shelters are eligible and have been approved for work permits. This leaves thousands in an uneasy state of pause.  

It is in this space that National Able Network is unique. “I feel that we are very blessed. We can provide workforce services to those who do not have a work permit. We provide universal services – from resume guidance to explaining what a job interview is like here, and even sharing the job search systems that are most common,” says Awilda González, National Able Network’s Director of Chicagoland’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Programs. National Able Network is helping new arrivals prepare for job search, while calibrating a sense of patience so as to help them find long-term work opportunities as opposed to a quickly fleeting dollar. “We certainly understand the need,” says Daniela, “but, if they work with us and have just a little bit of patience, which we know is already a lot to ask, we can help connect them with amazing resources and stable work.”  

Echoing this sentiment in the American Job Center is the onsite community crew – who is primarily made up of new arrivals. Awilda says, “We’re certainly in an interesting space…Our community crew live in this community, they understand the community, and they want to help their community.” 

Preparing and supporting new arrivals for careers in the U.S., is just one aspect of this situation. Establishing relationships with new employer partners that have opportunities for English-language learners is another. Within the groups of new arrivals are people with extensive work experience, highly accredited academic backgrounds, and an overall drive to achieve self-sufficiency. Language can be learned, but experience and motivation are values not so easily attained.   

“This city was made on people who migrated to this country from all walks of life – whether Latino, whether European, or whatever their background may be…This is the mecca that has thrived with migrant workers whether in manufacturing or hospitality or almost any other industry,” says Awilda. And National Able Network is proud to be on the frontlines. Some say that navigating the current workforce environment is hard work, but where there is hard work there is fulfilling work, there is compassion, and there is community. The dream today is to assist in achieving stability so that future generations can achieve whatever destiny (and career) they choose.