Everyone knows the names of the casinos that have closed — Atlantic Club, Showboat, Trump Plaza, Revel.

Fewer people have heard of Ralph Tejeda, Dan Trymer, or Rafael and Heather Rivera.

They are just four of the estimated 8,000 casino employees who lost their jobs when the casinos shut their doors. Some have left the area, some have started new careers, and some are just struggling to get by.

One-Stop Career Centers, the Cape/Atlantic Workforce Investment Board and Atlantic Cape Community College have been working to help the unemployed find, and if necessary, retrain for new careers they never thought they’d need. But it’s not easy, especially with mortgages and car payments and insurance.

Casinos make headlines. But it is people who will build a new future for Atlantic City, Atlantic County, and South Jersey.

Today we introduce four area residents trying to make a fresh start.

Rafael and Heather Rivera

For more than 20 years Heather and Rafael Rivera, of Mays Landing, had a good life in gaming. Then the Atlantic Club closed in January, and they both lost their jobs. Now the couple, who met in grade school in Millville, are working on a dream. Both are enrolled in a short-term culinary training program at Atlantic Cape Community College’s Atlantic City campus, where Heather is hoping to turn her love of cooking into a second career.

“This is a chance to do something I’ve had a love for as a professional,” she said. “I’m up for the challenge.”

Rafael’s interest is in business, and he plans to also take business courses at the college. But their unemployment has run out, and they are living off savings, so jobs are a priority.

They will complete their culinary program in February and the plan is for Rafael to start working while Heather continues on to complete a full culinary program. She can then get a better job, and maybe he can take business classes. Their goal is to one day own their own small restaurant.

“We’re just taking it day to day now,” Heather said as the couple learned to cut and prepare vegetables.

“We want to be self-employed,” Rafael said. “The casino did give us a full career, but after 25 years it was just a handshake and a thank you. Our children our grown and it’s just us now. We might leave the state. But we were both born and raised here, and we own a house that won’t be easy to sell.”

Dan Trymer

It’s been almost a year since Dan Trymer, of Tuckerton, lost his bartending job when the Atlantic Club closed.

Now he hopes that the hands that mixed drinks can build a new career as a handyman and home remodeler.

“I tried to get a bartending job, but all the applications are online now and no one even calls you back,” he said. He just completed the Fresh Start program coordinated by Atlantic Cape College and is developing a business plan for his business, Hands by Dan.

He’s not a novice at home repair. He’s been working on home construction jobs for more than 20 years part-time.

“I had friends in need, and I’d help them out,” he said. “Everybody kept saying, ‘You’re pretty good, did you ever think about doing this for a living?’ So now I am.”

A widower who lost his wife five years ago, he wants to give his daughter, Kaitlin, 15, the future he said she deserves. Times have been tougher since his unemployment ran out, but he remains strong for Kaitlin, whom he calls “the daughter every parent hopes to have.”

“I want a better life for her,” he said. He would like to focus on helping older residents with basic home projects they might no longer be able to perform, but is also up for larger remodeling. He wasn’t working in early December, but had an appointment to see someone about a job.

“I need to support myself,” he said.

Rafael ‘Ralph’ Tejeda

After 31 years in the casino industry, Ralph Tejeda, of Galloway Township, lost his job as an entertainment manager at Trump Plaza when it closed. But he had a backup plan.

He had installed solar panels on his home and loved the energy savings and the industry’s potential. Even while at Trump Plaza he began working in solar sales.

After he got laid off, he decided to make it a career. He is now doing sales and design for EZNERGY and plans to start his own business, Solar Solutions Logistics,a project management company that will work with clients and solar energy providers. He also took the Fresh Start business program operated by Atlantic Cape Community College and hopes to be operating by March.

“Before it was part-time fun,” he said. “But I was always working for others. Now I need to make this mine.”

Tejeda admits he is one of the luckier former casino workers. His wife still works at the Borgata, and he still works on-call for Golden Nugget.

“I prepared for layoffs,” he said. “And I’m still doing okay. I have some time to build the business.”

Contact Diane D’Amico:


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