About Wildcat
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Our History


Pioneering innovation and social justice is at our core. 

Wildcat was the first organization in the United States to launch a transitional work program for ex-offenders struggling to find jobs.  We now serve a diverse group of people facing obstacles to employment with programs that flexibly meet the city’s changing social and economic needs. Over the years, Wildcat programs – such as its private industry partnerships and the Neighborhood Improvement Project – have become models for cities nationwide. 

 

1970s – SPEARHEADING A FOUNDATION IN SUPPORTED WORK

A spin-off of the Vera Institute of Justice, Wildcat’s very inception in 1972 helped define and shape the field of workforce development.  Our first program was a messenger service providing income and work experience for ex-offenders.  Inspired by our success, the Ford Foundation increased its funds for supported work programming.  MDRC later conducted its first national evaluation of supported work.

 

1980s – BREAKING INTO YOUTH PROGRAMMING

Wildcat expanded its impact with programs for at-risk youth, nurturing their career development and long-term economic well-being.  Wildcat founded the John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy (which was later spun off in 2007) and its first Summer Youth Employment Program. 

 

1990s – DRIVING INNOVATION THROUGH PARTNERING WITH BUSINESS

Savvy to the needs of the city and major employers, Wildcat incubated a groundbreaking private industry partnership venture with several Wall Street firms.  The resulting program opened the door for public assistance recipients to claim entry-level, career ladder positions with full training and support. 

We also initiated our first welfare-to-work program as a part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996.  In celebration, a Wildcat customer introduced President Clinton at a White House press conference recognizing the anniversary of the reform.

 

2000s – BUILDING SCALE, GROWING IMPACT

Major new initiatives fueled a significant expansion in Wildcat's services and capabilities to reach thousands more customers every year.  We piloted a city One Stop center in Harlem and now run the Bronx Workforce1 Career Center.  We also launched new programs targeted at the city’s working poor, including a civic justice initiative, an advancement and retention program and an internship program for young adults.  Our Neighborhood Improvement Project - where transitional workers took to the streets of Jamaica, Queens to fight blight and prevent urban decay resulting from the foreclosure crisis - has garnered widespread praise and is now running citywide.