Focus On Solutions

At-risk youth help boost company's bottom line

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Union City recycling company is doing a lot more than working to save the environment. Tri-CED Community Recycling's mission is to give jobs to hard to employ workers. It is a strategy that has given a boost to more than a thousand at-risk young people and boosted the company's bottom line.

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It is a dirty job, hour after hour, sorting through other people's recycling, but workers like Denzell McDaniel are glad to have it.

"Nobody wanted to hire me," said McDaniel. "They thought I was a hoodlum or something, I don't know."

With a conviction for drug possession on his record, landing a job was not easy.

"I put in calls, applications, day after day, calling people," said McDaniel.

Nearly half of the 85 workers at Tri-CED are considered hard to employ.

Some are high school dropouts, many have criminal histories, and all have tried to get a job, but couldn't.

"Home invasion, second-degree robbery, burglary," said Tri-CED employee James Ware.

Then came Tri-CED's owner, Richard Valle. A Vietnam veteran, he started Tri-CED almost 30 years ago with the goal of giving back to his community by helping his employees build a future.

Today, Valle is as much a CEO as he is a mentor.

"There is a sense of obligation that we have to these young people," said Valle. "They do need help because a lot of them just don't have the ability to help themselves."

And the strategy is working both for the employees and for the company's bottom line. Workers earn an above-minimum wage salary, they get a case manager, GED training, and even interest-free loans to go to school. In return, Tri-CED processes 1,400 tons of recycling a month and it now has the contract for all the curbside recycling in Union City and Hayward.

Maybe the hardest thing about running this $10 million a year business for Valle is not being able to hire all of the people out there who ask him for a job.

"I dropped out of high school when I was in the 11th grade," said 19-year-old Alex Marabilla, a father of two.

Tri-CED has given Marabilla goals he never had.

"It actually made me realize that I could get a better job and that's what I'm trying to do," he said. "I'm trying to get my diploma and after that probably go to college."

Valle received this year's prestigious James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award for his decades of work on the environment and with at-risk young people.

Former probation officer and Cal State East Bay professor of social work Terry Jones says companies like Tri-CED help keep former inmates from re-offending.

"What they're doing is setting a model which other corporations small and large ought to attempt to follow -- that the stereotyping of convicts is not a good thing," said Jones.

For Valle, that good thing has also turned out to be a good business model.

"You have to demonstrate care and leadership for people, otherwise people are not going to give you the productivity that you want so you can increase your bottom line," said Valle.

The constant sorting of glass and cans can be a monotonous task, but for three-striker Steven Sims, it comes with valuable lessons.

"Some people can't find a job and they give up and that's when they go back to what they was doing," said Sims. "But if you keep going and going and going, somebody is going to give you a second chance."

And as these workers now make a living giving recyclables a second chance, they too are getting exactly that.

LINK: Tri-CED Community Recycling (www.tri-ced.org)

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