From Caretaker to Supervisor: An NRTA Success Story

Karen Callender
Supervisor of Housing Grounds Karen Callender

Karen Callender never pictured herself in a career involving manual labor – but when she saw information about the NYCHA Resident Training Academy (NRTA) in The NYCHA Journal soon after her corporate office position of 14 years had been eliminated, she wanted to try something new.

The NRTA, managed by NYCHA’s Office of Resident Economic Empowerment and Sustainability (REES), provides residents with training opportunities and job placement assistance for careers in the construction, janitorial services, and maintenance fields. Ms. Callender completed the janitorial track of the NRTA in 2012 while she was a Bayview Houses resident, and soon began working as a Caretaker J at Langston Hughes Houses in Brooklyn.

She is thankful for the program that introduced her to a new career she enjoys and allowed her to move out of public housing. “If I look back, I wouldn’t have ever seen myself riding a Bobcat or picking up garbage – sometimes I ask myself, ‘Am I really doing this?’ I actually love it. I don’t think I could ever go back to an office job.”

The NRTA was launched in 2010 and is funded by the Robin Hood Foundation. REES partners with many of the best employment training providers in the city to help with the NRTA, including Brooklyn Workforce Innovations and the New York City College of Technology. The program has helped many residents achieve their dreams of having careers with growth opportunities – of the more than 1,900 NRTA graduates, 90 percent have been placed into jobs.

Throughout her time working at Langton Hughes, Ms. Callender got to know many residents and partner organizations working at the development. She also completed projects to better the community, including a mural project for all three buildings at the development. Her initiative has helped Ms. Callender rise through the ranks, moving from Caretaker J to Caretaker G to Acting Supervisor, and now to Supervisor of Housing Grounds at Sheepshead Bay Houses through a promotion last year.

“The NRTA gave me a second chance to get back on my feet,” said Ms. Callender. “I believe in paying it forward, so I try to tell anyone I know who is in need of a job to go to the program.”

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