Job-seekers crowd the Columbus Park Refectory last Sat., May 16, for a job fair sponsored by Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin. Submitted photo.

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) held a job fair last Sat., May 16, at the Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson Blvd. The event paired about 25 employers and service providers with what one Boykin aide estimated was about 400 young people seeking work.

Anthony Beckham, Boykin’s community outreach coordinator, said the commissioner’s office plans to make the fair an annual event.

“What inspired the commissioner to do this is the lack of opportunities and resources in the first district,” Beckham said. “We started by doing hiring events for Brookfield Zoo. We did two of those — one in Maywood and another at the Austin Town Hall. We wanted to branch out to multiple employers and that’s where the idea came from.”

This year, Beckham noted, the fair brought out the likes of Nike, Walmart and Chicago Botanical Gardens, the latter of which specializes in hiring individuals looking for a second chance, he said.

The fair also attracted local manufacturing employers like Dudek & Bock, a company located at 5100 W. Roosevelt Rd. According to Kathleen Dudek, the founder’s daughter-in-law, the company has been in business for nearly 70 years and employs more than 200 people.

Dudek & Bock manufactures the metal stampings for companies such as Whirlpool Corp., Ford Motor Co., General Electric and Chrysler. The parts they make show up in appliances, sporting goods, hardware equipment and electronic devices, Dudek said.

She said attending events such as Saturday’s job fair connects her company with potential workers who may go on to lifelong careers with one of the manufacturers in their backyard.

“We’ve been talking to the youth, it’s been great,” she said.

But how does Boykin’s office ensure that they’re not just throwing another one-day exhibition with nothing permanent to show for it? Beckham said the office will be following up with the potential employers they’ve invited to keep track of hires.

“We’ll ask employers to pull zip codes for where they were hiring from this event and how many employers hire from zip codes we represent,” Beckham said. “We’ll also send out a survey to all employers, asking them how they liked the event, whether they were comfortable here and how many youth from this particular event each of them hired.”

Youth like DeShawn Luster, 19, who works at the McDonald’s near Oak Park Avenue and Madison Street. Luster said that, despite having a job, he showed up to test the waters for better opportunities and to learn some things. He had attended a Nike seminar during the job fair, in which representatives from the company advised West Side youth on the kinds of employees they’re looking to hire.

“They told us about certain skills Nike is looking for as an employer and what type of person you need to be, in terms of communication skills,” Luster said. “I learned a lot here.”