New opportunities

The Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center is planning on expanding its efforts in providing job training, with help from funding and volunteers.

Solomon Jones, a student of the hospitality program at Opportunities Industiralization Center, makes a bed in a mock hotel room as part of the non profit’s hands-on training program. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN
Solomon Jones, a student of the hospitality program at Opportunities Industiralization Center, makes a bed in a mock hotel room as part of the non profit’s hands-on training program. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN

The Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center was founded in 1964. Helen Jay, who joined in 1965 and continues to work for the nonprofit to this day, feels ready for what’s next with this organization.

“It was a great past …but I’m also looking forward to the future,” Jay said.

Philadelphia OIC, located on 1231 N. Broad St., has been dedicated in helping unemployed, underemployed and homeless community members by providing free education, training and job placement. Now, with Dr. Kevin R. Johnson appointed as the new president and CEO back in January, he has confidence OIC will grow in its mission of giving people “a second chance.”

“There are people who come here who may have given up on themselves, even given up on life, but here at OIC, we help to restore hope,” said Johnson, the former pastor of Bright Hope Church near Temple Towers.

Temple students could also play a big role in this mission, as potential volunteers for OIC’s hospitality training program, Opportunities Inn, as well as GED education and computer literacy lessons.

On June 29, President Theobald met with Johnson at Philadelphia OIC to tour the building and learn about the work being done there, in an effort to build a closer relationship.

“Temple is really a neighbor,” Johnson said. “It is open and it’s a beginning conversation that Dr. Theobald and I will continue to have.”

Olga Palashnyuk, the employment development specialist for Philadelphia OIC, believes Temple’s close proximity is perfect for Temple students to get involved in a way that can help OIC participants beyond just getting them a job.

“I think that that sense of empowerment really just struck me as, ‘Wow, these are the kinds of things OIC can do,’” Palashnyuk said. “I think that’s what [OIC founder] Leon Sullivan would’ve wanted. He had a burning in his heart for helping people help themselves—that’s our motto—and he made it happen.”

Sullivan’s role in Philadelphia’s history is vast, as he is the namesake of Sullivan Progress Plaza, which includes Fresh Grocer and Citizens Bank, in addition to presiding over Zion Baptist Church on Broad and Venango streets from 1950 to 1988. But the key descriptor of Sullivan would be how he was “ahead of his time” in terms of giving opportunities to struggling residents, Jay said.

With hospitality job courses like room housekeeping and culinary arts, OIC students are prepared to work in the food and hotel industries after nine- and 16-week programs, respectively.

Jay, the life skills coach for Opportunities Inn, guides students with everything from holding mock interviews to teaching proper attitudes and teamwork—things they need in order to secure themselves a solid career.

Chalie Schmidt, the chef instructor for Opportunities Inn and former adjunct professor for Temple’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, has been “building” cooks with OIC for 20 years. The way he sees it, he has a responsibility of using his years of culinary experience to help his students build a relationship with the restaurant community even after graduation.

“So it really is beyond just the contractual obligation of getting people hired, it’s also helping them continue with their careers—it’s career-building,” Schmidt said.

With help from funding, Johnson also has plans in implementing programs that would provide students with jobs in other industries like energy, construction and manufacturing.

Besides these traditional jobs though, his vision also calls for getting students involved in the technology field, with hopes of starting OIC’s first-ever coding boot camp and creating co-working spaces to encourage tech entrepreneurship.

Albert Hong can be reached at, 215.204.7416 or on Twitter @AtotheHONG.

1 Comment

  1. Hello there my name is Christina Torres and I am a former graduate (2013) of OIC. I was in the night time culinary classes, OIC has helped me build self confidence within myself when I had none. Mrs.Jay is an outstanding woman along with Mr. Lestor & Chef. Without OIC I can honestly say I wouldn’t know where I would be today. Because of the love, patience & passion the staff has for the students that walk in their doors that really want to better themselves it’s outstanding!! I Christina Torres will never forget OIC for helping me become the person I am today! Thanks to the staff at OIC I have landed myself a career job before I even graduated which I am forever grateful it I now going on three years that I am on my job. It’s called the Dog & Bull Music House.

    Thank you
    Christina Torres

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