“They’re awesome!” said recently released offender *Marie Parker. “They’ve been holding my arm and guiding me. It’s been a great experience.”
That would be Denver Works. You’d be forgiven if you thought Marie was describing a chart-topping Gospel rock group with a new album out. In fact Denver Works is a nonprofit given to helping hard-to-place folks find jobs, including former inmates.
To those behind bars, “hard time” applies to job hunting when they get out as well as the sentences served inside. Finding work is a tough road at best for an ex-offender, and at worst it’s a hike up a perilous peak without the equipment or basic skills you need to survive.
Many don’t make it. (See “Bob’s Story” below.) Failure to find a job is a key driver of high recidivism rates – the large numbers of former inmates who wind up inside again.
Marie doesn’t want to be one of them.
“I made a wrong choice,” she said of her financial crime, “but I’m a better person now, and I will not let my poor choices dictate my future.”
When her halfway house referred her to the Denver Works 2nd Chance Program for former offenders, she took the program’s job workshop.
“I didn’t have anything when I got out,” she said, and the thought of job hunting with a prison record was frightening.
But Marie was given a caseworker/mentor, computer access, job leads, and a chance to choose an interview outfit from the nonprofit’s Clothing Closet.
“I took the workshop last week, today I’m sending emails for more jobs (from Denver Works computers), and I just got a phone call for a job interview,” she said.
Topics for the workshop included job search strategies, tips on handling tough interview questions, and an introduction to industries and employers who are friendly to ex-offenders.
Since 1995, DenverWorks has served more than 24,500 clients, provided clothing for about half, and had an overall job placement rate of 60 percent (recently 50 percent).
As a faith-based nonprofit, the group supports clients’ belief commitments but it serves people of all faiths and no faith at all.
A key tool is employer recruitment. It also provides follow-up support to employers and clients who are hired if it’s needed.
“Employment itself is not a magic key,” said Denver Works executive director Jenifer Reynolds. “‘Now I have my job. How do I keep it?’ Many ex-offenders need role models, mentoring. Their families need support.”
The group has a grant from the Colorado Department of Corrections to provide job workshops to DOC reentry clients, and also works with Colorado inmates while they’re still inside.
Like many nonprofits, Denver Works has seen funding cuts. Their DOC grant is slated to run out at the end of September. Undaunted, Jenifer Reynolds said, “We would like to expand services using a business model, employ ex-offenders ourselves, and become self supporting.”
That can-do attitude affects clients. “I’m determined to get ahead,” Marie Parker said. “I’m a hard worker. In prison I went from a laundry job to leader of a work crew. And like the people here (at Denver Works) I want to give back.”
“I made a mistake. I suffered the consequences. As an ex-offender, you’re condemned (by society). But I believe God is the God of second chances,” and Denver Works staff and volunteers “made me feel like I can make it. They make you feel like a person again.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
* Read and share “My Name is Bob,” a reentry memoir published by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. Free download at http://tinyurl.com/7a4mejl
* Hold a clothing drive for Denver Works’ clothing closets at your job or place of worship. Provide interview outfits and clothes for daily work life.More information and contacts at http://tinyurl.com/82fugsu
* Enhance your resume. Volunteer as a reentry teacher and computer lab assistant. Denver Works will train you. See http://tinyurl.com/cj8gktp
* Hire a former offender: http://tinyurl.com/6muktrr
* Support the annual Denver Works auction and fundraiser. The 2012 event is in downtown Denver August 11, with celebrity emcee, dinner, and live music.. RSVP here: http://www.denverworks.org/eventsnews.html
* Order the reentry guide published by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. (CCJRC will mail it to an inmate.) “Getting On After Getting Out” is at http://www.ccjrc.org/reentry-guide.shtml
* Be inspired. Watch Denver Works success stories on YouTube. http://tinyurl.com/7bh3emk
*We are not using Marie’s real name at her request.
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