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POWER will seek jobs plan

 power handmade signFrom the Philadelphia Inquirer

She's an orthopedic medical assistant with 34 years of experience, but Kathleen Elmasry, 54 and a widow from South Philadelphia, has been out of work for 16 months.

"I was eliminated," she said. "I was on an approved medical leave to care for my mother, who was dying, but then a new office manager came in, and that was it. I lost my job."

Elmasry, who applied for 1,200 jobs but did not get a single interview, and thousands of similarly situated Philadelphians are part of the impetus behind Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild, or POWER.  

The new faith-based nonprofit organization pledged to connect 10,000 Philadelphians with living-wage jobs by 2015.

Representing 40 houses of worship and 25,000 individuals and clergy members, POWER was launched Sunday before a crush of 2,000 crowded into Tindley Temple on South Broad Street.

The roster of speakers featured Mayor Nutter, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, union leaders, and City Council member Bill Green, who said he would propose legislation creating a local-hiring component in all public works projects.

Even in its infancy, POWER already has a five-point platform of pressing problems: unemployment, education, housing, health care, and public safety.

frjoegenitoBishop Dwayne Royster of Living Water United Church of Christ in North Philadelphia, introduced Sunday as POWER's executive director, said the first focus would be on jobs.

"We have a large population of unemployed and underemployed people in the city," Royster said. "Many will need literacy training, job-readiness skills, or technical training.

"But we have met with leaders in government, unions, and private industry, and we will be working with them to build pipelines to jobs in health care, and to secure a 'community benefit agreement' for jobs at Philadelphia International Airport," he said.

A $5.2 billion airport expansion is planned, but the project, which has a 2025 completion date, has not yet been put out to bid, said airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica.

POWER will not fund or run programs. Instead, the socioeconomically and racially diverse group will use its unified voice to advocate for change.

We will be working to secure a 'community benefit agreement' for jobs at the expanded Philadelphia International Airport

With unemployment nationally at 9.8 percent, and Philadelphia's unemployment rate at 10.8 percent, the jobs effort will not be easy.

"We face a national struggle because of the vitriol in Washington," Royster said. "We need to speak up for ourselves and for the average person. Nobody is listening to their collective pain and offering real solutions."

POWER members will start meeting in regional clusters, Royster said, to take their next steps.

"I want people to have a sense of ownership of their collective destiny," Royster said in an interview. "It's not just others in power forcing their opinions on us. It ought to be a dialogue with one another so we can help propel Philadelphia forward."

By Dianna Marder