Through HETP, Nagiane Lacka connects students to opportunity


Nagiane Lacka and Jorge Arriaza grew up in a small, densely populated neighborhood in New Jersey. Although Arriaza’s family is Catholic and Lacka’s family Muslim they had many things in common including their ambitions to work hard in their careers and help other working families succeed. Arriaza’s Chilean parents who made the journey to New Jersey from Puerto Rico, and Lacka’s father who is Albanian, and her mother, grew to love their child’s mate, and Arriaza and Lacka travel back often to share their families’ lives.

Throughout their school years, Lacka and Arriaza were surrounded by other young people struggling to go on in school, to prepare for jobs. The families from different immigrant cultural backgrounds all urged their children to work hard and create financially stable lives.

Going to college as a young, married woman, Lacka noted that her childhood was unlike most of her fellow Cornell students: “This was the first time I realized our childhood neighborhood was working poor. There were many unspoken ‘rules’ and customs that other college students knew, but for kids from lower social economic strata, the new customs were confusing and demanding.”

Lacka set her goal to work in the world of not-for-profit agencies which shore up struggling families as they work toward a middle-class life.

Five years ago Lacka was pleased to join the Greater Ithaca Activity Center to develop its Hospitality Employment Training Program (HETP). Lacka and the Advisory Board committed to doing whatever it took to help HETP students find the job they sought. “Even if a young person has grown up in difficult circumstances—unstable housing, parental loss, drugs, alcohol, mental health challenges in the family, everyone is encouraged to seek a good life. We are all entitled to have food and shelter and to set our sights high. Students may want to eventually own a catering business, or want to be able to regularly pay their bills, work and have time to be with their family…Many of the participants in HETP have lots of drive and determination, but don’t know how to pull together what they need, don’t have access to resources. Some people don’t have a network of people to help them find out about jobs and what they need to prepare…All of this we address,” she said.

“It has been a joy to administer this program. We have the time, focus, resources to fully support each participant. To tailor the training to their goals and needs, to hear them out as they take on the challenges of preparing to work,” Lacka said. The program helps participants find mentors in their chosen fields, and get them accustomed to the nuances and customs of that line of work.

“There are no training or certification fees in HETP. If they need to take a course in First Aid, learn to drive, get a well-fitting interview suit or outfit, we can assist. Participants can access the resources they need to get the job they are seeking,” Lacka said. “Fortunately, Tompkins County has a low rate of unemployment. With full employment, employers find it helpful to expand their pool of available applicants. This encourages applicants who have never believed they could find a job or gave up looking for work, to have the courage to seek employment. HETP can be a bridge between what employers seek and what employees can offer.”

People who have not worked for a long time may find it terrifying to imagine what they would have to pull together to begin the job hunt. GIAC’s program begins by asking people “Where are you now?” Is the applicant seeking stable housing, recovering from domestic violence, living in the teetering stage of post-drug or alcohol recovery? HETP has referrals to supportive agencies to address whatever obstacles and needs the applicant describes.

“Anyone 18 or older who lives or works in Tompkins County, or wants to live or work in Tompkins County can apply. We meet with interested people and help them fill out applications when they are ready.”

Lacka wanted to work in community-based agencies for the greatest impact to achieve her goal: provide equal access to people who need it. “I was interested in business models, operations and management issues. Applying this to agency work and helping people become more successful, one person at a time has been an honor to witness.”

GIAC’s original HETP Advisory Board was creative and energetic, and Lacka reports the original founding agencies remain actively involved and supportive. Classes begin twice a year, but contact with HETP is welcomed all year round.
You can sign up now for the September program! Contact Nagiane Lacka at GIAC to learn more about HETP, (607)273-4190.


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