Arzu Yetim Gives Back

On a sunny, breezy June day in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Kensington, Arzu Yetim took a break to speak with me at a Dunkin Donuts near her construction worksite.

After five years in New York state prisons, Arzu Yetim entered a work release program at Edgecombe Correctional Facility. She was committed to returning and staying home, and to do so needed to find and keep a job. She started attending Osborne’s workforce program, at that time called Training to Work. An eager and focused participant from her first day, she repeatedly asked her career coach, Jenny Santiago, about finding a job on a construction site - specifically, as a flagger.

“The first thing she said to me was ‘I want to be a flagger,” said Jenny Santiago. Arzu confirmed this, saying “I kept nagging her every day!” In fact, she had been interested in flagging for a long time and she enjoys the work immensely. She explained, ““When I was little, I remember driving by the guys out there and telling my dad I wanted to do that someday.” Though Osborne didn’t offer certification for flaggers at the time, Jenny was able to allocate funding so that Arzu could take the certification course for flagging at another organization during her Training to Work program.  

 Jenny Santiago and Arzu at her
December 2015 graduation 

Since completing her Osborne program in 2016, she has been employed in the construction industry. Last year, she started working as a flagger for another company, and as a result of her hard work and success, was promoted to a supervisory position.   

After becoming a supervisor, Arzu saw an opportunity to give back. When the construction project on Church and McDonald Avenues in Kensington began, Arzu’s employer needed to hire a number of flaggers and security staff. Arzu had spoken with Osborne staff recently, and knew that Osborne participants would be graduating with necessary certifications.  

So Arzu attended the June 1 graduation in the Bronx Osborne building - a long Uber ride from her job site in central Brooklyn. Following the graduation, she held a series of interviews with the the graduating participants who had OSHA and Flagging certifications. By the next week, they were all working for her company, and will continue to do so through at least the end of the project.   

When I asked her why she came back to Osborne, she said “everyone at Osborne is helpful and caring, and I wanted to give back. I called Jenny, and said we’re hiring flaggers… when you are incarcerated, its like you are family. I want to raise them up with me, I’ll take your hand and lift you up with me.”

She expressed her appreciation of many Osborne staff she worked with during her program, mentioning that “Mr. G” (Henry Guion) and Sharon Livingston both gave her insight and knowledge she still uses today. “Everybody in the Osborne Association are really helpful, and they care. I actually felt human again when I went there. I used to love to go to the Bronx office, just to go there.”

As we talked more about her journey, it was clear how important contributing to the wider community is to Arzu. “I think I have a good heart, and I do want to help people. I’ve been in prison, I know how hard it is. Its so hard to find a job when they find out you have a background. If you tell them you are incarcerated, you are on the bottom of the list, the bottom of the barrel. Everyone comes ahead of you - even if you have experience. So I said you know what? I’m going to give people chances, too.”

“All that being said, I got out, I got a job, and I believe that you always do what you want to do. If you put it in your mind that you want to do something, and you want to change your life around - you can do it. So that’s what I told those guys when I went to Osborne. And now they are all working and they are happy - and I’m happy.”

Arzu (L) and Gypsy Porfirio (R) show off their skills

Arzu was born in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. She lives in Bensonhurst and grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. She’s a soft-spoken person, but her passion comes out quickly - you can’t help being pulled in by her story. Her son, who is at Nassau Community College, and sister live nearby, but much of her family lives in Istanbul, Turkey. She visits frequently. She loves to spend time outside, and her interests reflect that. She enjoys music, dancing, and spending time at the beach.

What does she see in her future? “I’ve thought about opening up my own flagging company.”