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The D.C. government's push to link out-of-work residents with prospective employers appears to be paying off. More than 300 people have been hired since the launch of "One City, One Hire" in September, according to city officials.
The latest company to join the effort, 7-Eleven, hosted a hiring event at the city's employment services building earlier this week, hiring 26 workers in one afternoon.
"You ready today?" a D.C. employment services employee asks a prospective 7-Eleven employee sitting down outside the interview room at Monday's event. "No nerves, let's go."
One by one, applicants are whisked away for a quick pre-screening with city employment workers. If it goes well, there will be a face-to-face interview with a 7-Eleven representative. Not everyone can possibly be hired, though; there are roughly 100 people in attendance.
One of the hopefuls, Deborah Seldon, waits in the lobby. The former security guard has been out of work for more than a year, and will consider anything, including a job at 7-Eleven, she says.
"I am willing to go there, and work," Seldon says. "It's a job … If you've got two pieces of bread to make a sandwich, that's better than zero."
Why is 7-Eleven partnering with the city? Sure, the good press doesn't hurt -- but 7-Eleven market manager Mike Crist says the city's offer to pre-screen candidates saves the convenience store chain time and money. "It really it narrows the process and we get the best," says Crist.
On Monday, that honor belonged to Esayas Ayele, a recent immigrant from Ethiopia. He was one of more than two dozen hires 7-Eleven made. There's a quick photo-op with Crist and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who compliments Ayele's sharp outfit.
"If you don't mind me saying so -- I noticed it downstairs -- your appearance is absolutely great," Gray says. "Coming in with a tie and shirt on, that makes a very positive impression."
"I was a senior banker in my hometown with a degree in accounting," responds Ayele. "I am lucky, a very lucky guy."
The day isn't all smiles and congratulations, however, as scenes indicative of the city's and the nation's larger economic pressures play out. Ayele feels lucky, but maybe not loved; nearby, Stephanie Taylor watches his hiring disapprovingly. She was turned down for one of the openings.
"I think this was a waste of time," says Taylor. "If you just want to hire foreigners, you know, why would you have a jobs fair?"
In all, 7-Eleven hired 26 D.C. residents on the spot and promised to hire a dozen more in the future. Mayor Gray has said he hopes to find jobs for 10,000 employees through the effort.