Although not unexpected, mid-November nonetheless brought something of an end of an era to the Shirlington Employment and Education Center, better known as SEEC.
The pavilion area in Shirlington that the organization had used since 2003 to connect day-laborers with contractors and homeowners who sought their services has been fenced off in preparation for changes to Jennie Dean Park, where it is located.
“We knew it wasn’t forever,” said Andres Tobar, the long-serving executive director of SEEC, who thanked the county government for use of the space.
“They gave us 17 years,” he said.
The organization’s headquarters previously had been located in several modest buildings within walking distance of the pavilion, although operations moved out and were relocated to Arlington Mill Community Center prior to the COVID outbreak.
SEEC traces its roots to a looming potential crisis that reared up in the late 1990s. Day workers, mostly Latino, were congregating in the Four Mile Run area, causing friction with nearby neighborhoods that then were predominantly African-American. As many as 150 could be found adjacent to roadways, looking to pick up work.
The county government and Latino and community leaders worked to form SEEC, which provides a place for laborers to connect with jobs as well as offering a host of educational and employment programs.
But over the years, more of the day laborers lived in the 22204 ZIP code along Columbia Pike, rather than in 22206 in the Shirlington/Green Valley area. What at one time had been 50 to 60 people seeking jobs at the pavilion had dwindled to between 10 and 25, with many more opting to congregate near big-box home-improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s.“That’s where the contractors go,” Tobar said. “It’s somewhat of a natural evolution.”
Portia Clark, president of the Green Valley Civic Association, said her organization had worked with county-government officials to try and create a win-win by keeping space available for day laborers in the vicinity.
“For many years, SEEC has offered daily employment opportunities for people at a Jennie Dean Park pavilion,” she said. “At first, the county proposed moving the active commercial pavilion to a location fronting residences. The Green Valley Civic Association countered with seven different options for relocating the pavilion.”
In the end, operations shifted to the Arlington Mill center, which anchors the west end of Columbia Pike in Arlington.
During the COVID crisis, when the government space it occupies has been closed, SEEC has continued supporting its clients in a number of ways. The Arlington Community Foundation and Washington Forrest Foundation have partnered with the organization to provide food and other support services.
While founded to support male day-laborers, SEEC has expanded its horizons to provide a variety of training opportunities, and in recent years has been proactive in working with immigrant women on an array of initiatives, including entrepreneurship. That effort is expected to ramp up in coming years.
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