Soundview woman helps 40 construction workers get jobs

Soundview woman helps 40 construction workers get jobs
Community News Group/Sarah Valenzuela

A Soundview native is helping her fellow community members get jobs.

For 54-year-old Henrietta Henry, the streets surrounding Story Avenue have been her only home.

She knows most of the residents, both young and old, by face or name.

Most people call her ‘Ms. Etta,’ some say ‘Mommy Etta,’ and others even say ‘Queen Etta.’

While her nicknames vary, she’s known to many more as a community liaison.

Her latest effort: getting jobs for 40 construction workers from the community on an affordable housing development on Story Avenue.

“I know how hard it is to get a construction job,” said Etta, who has worked in the construction industry for the last 28 years. “I know the games. Some contractors give job seekers the run-around.”

Ms. Etta explained she wants to help people regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation, have a fair shot at getting a job within their own community.

For the workers, finding Etta is like finding their own personal advocate when all the other doors of opportunity have closed.

“If it wasn’t for Ms. Etta helping me find this opportunity, I wouldn’t have a job,” said 28-year-old Soundview resident, Nancy Sangiuolo.

Nancy said when she graduated college she had trouble finding work because she had a criminal past, then found it even more difficult to find work in the construction field because of her gender and sexual orientation.

“When Nancy came to me, I knew I had to help her get her foot in the door,” said Etta who explained Nancy had been worried about her family, who she was trying to help financially support.

The specific project she helped ferry Nancy and the other qualified workers to, was a construction project contracted by L+M Development and Nelson Management Group.

Located at 1520 and 1530 Story Avenue, the housing development was designed to be two 13-story apartment buildings for families whose income fall within the median income range of the area.

When the contractors attended the initial community board meetings to introduce the project in 2016, the board asked the contractors to open the construction jobs to those from the immediate community.

The trouble was, L+M didn’t know how to track down qualified local construction workers.

Then they met Etta, who was referred to them by one of her longtime supporters, Assemblyman Marcos Crespo.

“The real success here is when we connect local workers to local projects,” said Spencer Orkus, the development director for Affordable Housing at L+M.

Orkus explained though Etta was not a direct employee, she was brought on as a consultant because of how connected to the community she is.

The company worked with Building Skills, an organization that acts almost like an agency for construction workers to fill open positions at local job sites.

The Bronx workers at the site went through Building Skills, but were referred to them by Ms. Etta.

Building Skills helps these candidates get placement at mostly entry level construction positions, checks in on them during the project, then helps them with continuing employment, according to David Meade, the executive director of Building Skills.

Reach Reporter Sarah Valenzuela at (718) 260-4584. E-mail her at