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Seeking More Help on Day Labor Issue

Project Hope and Harmony works to formalize day labor site.

Two days after the Town Council held its day labor site discussion last week, Mayor Michael O'Reilly spoke to Project Hope and Harmony recapping what he's done in the last six months related to the issue.

In the gym of the ADAMS Center, O'Reilly spoke of his meetings with county officials since the group's first meeting Sept. 13 and listened to the group's requests about finding a solution.

"I am sorry I am impatient, but I don't want to wait five months," said Mukit Hossain, co-founder of Project Hope and Harmony, about how slow the process of finding a day labor site has been. "I say keep the momentum going, especially with the county ... I request that you continue that dialogue — if we keep the pressure on hopefully we can get something going."

After O'Reilly's speech and departure, Project Hope and Harmony, a group comprised of interfaith representatives and community leaders devoted to permanently solving the day labor site issue, brainstormed what the group's next move should be.

"Our real issue that we need to address is: there is a lack of cohesiveness in the community of Herndon," said the Rev. Stephen Smith-Cobbs of Reston Interfaith.

In September, Del. Tom Rust, members of religious organizations, O'Reilly, council member Harlon Reece and area residents joined for the first meeting of Project Hope and Harmony at the request of FAITH, Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Help, to discuss what had been done in previous years regarding the day laborer issues.

During a speech at the first meeting, Rust suggested possible solutions available to the group.

One was to explore the resources available to interfaith organizations that may differ from what town officials are able to use due to legal restrictions.

In an effort to do this, the group created three committees, a public relations committee, a site location committee and a services committee to address the issues.

Over the last month, each committee met at least once and brainstormed how to accomplish their role for the group.

"We'd like to be able to say in a quick mission statement what it is we plan to do," said Sarah Ince, director of social services for Reston Interfaith, about the public relations committee meeting.

ALTHOUGH IT TOOK longer than they anticipated, the group came up with tentative vision and mission statements that they hope to use in the community to raise awareness about their efforts.

The group's vision statement is to "build and sustain an inclusive, caring and cohesive community," through the creation of a formalized day labor site where humanitarian services, job training and job placement will eventually be offered.

"This is telling the community who we are and saying how we want to accomplish it," said Smith-Cobbs.

ONE OF THE MAIN concerns raised by Smith-Cobbs was integrating the group with the community to ensure they had the backing of residents — otherwise their efforts could fail.

"We need to do a better job of letting people know we're around," he said, noting there were no new people at the meeting. "We need to be more pro-active about getting the word out to the community."

In addition to becoming proactive with residents, Yaqub Mirza with Sterling Management, said he thinks the day laborers need to be present at the meetings.

"We should have a representative of the day laborers attend the meetings," he said. "We may be finding a solution for these people that does not work."

A recurring suggestion for a site location has been the current Herndon Police Department station — once the department moves into its new facility.

An issue with the location has been accessibility and how easily day laborers could get to the site.

Ellen Kaminsky, membership manager with the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce, informed the group she had hired a commercial Realtor to review possible sites around town — even ones originally discouraged — to explore other options, adding she was awaiting their review after the initial stages.

"We need to provide a humanitarian level of services that allows these people to join the community — whether they're Hispanic, Italian or Hebrew," said Kaminsky about the site once a location is determined.

Elizabeth Hagg, director of neighborhood resources for the town, brought to the group's attention that council members, in the Nov. 16 work session, discussed they did not want the site to offer social services.

She mentioned although council wants to create a formal site they are not ready to support social services, but added that doesn't mean the group cannot offer them.

"THINGS HAVE CHANGED since the Tuesday night meeting — it's a whole different ball game," she said. "As far as the humanitarian issues we don't need to wait until a formal site to start with those."

Kaminsky suggested to better publicize the group, the public relations committee should print flyers and brochures to distribute at an upcoming chamber mixer Dec. 16 where members of the business community will be.

"We still have a lot of people out there who don't know what we're doing," she said, adding possibly members of the business community would want to participate in the group's efforts.

By the end of the meeting the group decided the immediate steps will be to publicize the group while working toward a formal site for day laborers and addressing humanitarian needs in the upcoming winter months by providing warm clothes and food to workers and possibly their families.

The next meeting — which the group stressed is open to the public and encourages anyone interested to attend — will be Wednesday, Jan. 12 at Reston Interfaith, 11150 Sunset Hills Road, suite 210 in Reston, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.