Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation’s Second Chance Summit tackles ex-offender employment issues

Dave's Killer Bread Foundation'sThe Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation brought together business, nonprofit and government leaders at its Second Chance Summit in San Francisco in early December. The goal: to educate attendees about the opportunities and resources available for employing people with criminal backgrounds

This was the organization’s fourth summit. Two others took place in Portland in 2014 and 2015, and the third in New York City earlier this year.

Speakers at the San Francisco event:
  • San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who discussed how gaining housing and employment are two key elements in helping second chance employees find success and ultimately in lowering recidivism rates. Providing employment opportunities makes a community safer by steering people away from committing crimes.
  • Jessica Jackson Sloan, the national director and co-founder of #cut50, who spoke about her personal experience with incarceration.
  • Joe DeLoss, founder of Hot Chicken Takeover in Columbus, Ohio, who discussed being a second chance/fair chance employer. He explained how at HCT, the fact that everyone starts at the bottom and the benefits offered speak to what employees actually need are what makes his business successful. The background check conducted of his employees is more than just looking at someone’s record but an honesty check. It makes sure that employees are open and honest about their past and know that it will not count against them. Currently, 68% of his staff is second chance employees, and he hopes to see that number grow in the future.
  • Seth Sundberg, founder of snack food company Prison Bars, who talked about his experience as a second chance employee and employer.
  • Van Jones, president and co-founder of The Dream Corps and #cut50, who gave the keynote address, encouraging people and companies to take a risk and hire second chance employees. Do not waste genius and make a difference in someone’s life by giving them a chance, he said.
Panels included second chance employers and employees

In addition to the speakers, panels addressed various issues related to second-chance employment.

A panel of second chance employees discussed their work experiences and how they got to where they are today. They all agreed that one of the things they were most afraid of in applying for a job was the fear of rejection because of their past. However, they were fortunate to find organizations to help them. To those on the panel, receiving a second chance means everything; it gives them somewhere positive to go, a way to provide for their families and hope. One of the most important ideas expressed during the panel session was that knowing, and learning to own, that the person you were in the past is not the person you are today.

The second chance employee panel, moderated by Paul Solomon, executive director of Sponsors, Inc., included Andre Eddings, assistant supervisor of the Wrap Department of Dave’s Killer Bread; Ruth Butler, administrative assistant at Homeboy Industries; Melissa Brewster, community engagement manager at Luminalt Solar; and Vanessa Velasquez.

Another panel consisted of employers. Panelists stressed that being a second chance employer is not something that most people think they can handle. What employers should know is that they need to take the time to get to know the people they are working with and to invest in their community. By providing jobs, they are helping the community, especially those looking for a second chance. They discussed how employers can help their second chance employers and how it can benefit them in the process.

Led by David Israel, founder of Pop! Gourmet Foods, the panel members included Ronnie Elrod, director of manufacturing for Dave’s Killer Bread; John Krause, owner of Big House Beans; Audrey Holmes, director of workforce development for Homeboy Industries; and Emma Rosenbush, general manager of Cala Restaurant.

Workshops dealt with a variety of issues

Six afternoon workshops focused on different ways employers and organizations that work with second chance employees can help them. The sessions also debunked some of the legal and insurance myths concerning employing second chance employees. Topics included getting leadership buy-in, employer insights for nonprofits, building a talent pipeline, best hiring practices and helping employees go from good to great through engagement.

The Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation focuses on empowering second chance employment. With the help of its Second Chance Playbook, available online free of charge, the organization is working on providing the resources necessary to teach companies about the benefits of hiring second chance employees.

Other organizations involved in planning and hosting the summit include #cut50, which aims to cut the prison population in half in the next 10 years, and REDF, which works to create job opportunities and pathways for those who have barriers to employment.

redf.org

S.F.’s Cala restaurant gives second chance to those in reentry

second chance employer

Cala Restaurant, San Francisco

In San Francisco, a city of exceptional eateries, one recently opened restaurant stands apart – and not just for its amazing food but for the fact that it is a second chance employer, making a point of seeking out and hiring formerly incarcerated individuals.

That restaurant, Cala, is the latest and first U.S. venture for celebrity chef Gabriela Camara, who has four restaurants in her native Mexico. And although she wholeheartedly supports targeting this population for her employees, it was her general manager, Emma Rosenbush, who came up with the idea.

Before operating a pop-up restaurant in Mexico City, where she befriended Camara, Rosenbush studied sociology and criminal justice, and worked at the Prison Law Office in Berkeley, Calif. During her time there, she visited all of the California state prisons. And it was that experience which inspired her hiring practices when she got into the restaurant business.

A whole population who can’t get work

“When I had the opportunity to work with Gabriela there was a hiring crunch. No one can afford to live in the city (San Francisco) and work in the service industry, so it’s hard to find good people to work in restaurants,” she says. “And, at the same time, there’s a whole population of people who can’t get a job because they have a record.”

Rosenbush had decided several years earlier that if she ever had an opportunity to hire people with criminal records, she would. And now she has the chance to give them a second chance.

The restaurant opened late last September, and she started the hiring process in the summer by reaching out to former professors and holding meetings with CJCJ (the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice) and Delancey Street.

Rosenbush worked with the San Francisco Probation Department’s Community Assessment Service Center (CASC), where she conducted seminars and was able to interview 40 to 50 applicants.

75 percent of employees have convictions

And among the 33 current employees, 75 percent have convictions.

Although Rosenbush has been able to hire quite a number of formerly incarcerated individuals, it’s been a challenge.

“I wish that I had more support,” she says. “The biggest challenge is that a lot of people I’ve hired are getting support elsewhere like living at Delancey Street or there’s some kind of safety net under them, but I’m not a social service. I’m a business. Another issue is a lot of insecurity. It’s intimidating to go into a new world.”

The restaurant business requires a certain level of knowledge and sophistication, and she says that Cala has diners asking about wine from servers who may have never drunk a glass of wine in their lives.

Doing the right thing by giving second chance

In spite of the challenges, Rosenbush is convinced she’s doing the right thing. “I wouldn’t have done it any other way. The level of loyalty and the sense of family we’re in the process of creating make it all worthwhile. And it’s why I want to go to work everyday,” she says.

What’s she’s looking for in a potential employee above all else is a sense of commitment. “I’m interested in people who are interested in something more than just a paycheck. I don’t care if you don’t know anything about food or wine or cocktails. If you’re committed to showing up every day that counts,” Rosenbush says.

She’s lost many of her earliest employees. But she’s also had some amazing success stories, including a guy who had been living in a halfway house and on his first day of looking for a job had heard that Cala was hiring.

“He came in off the street, and I was having a meeting, but he shook my hand and looked me in the eye. We hired him as a back waiter, and he did so well that we promoted him to server,” she says.

Unfortunately, the man no longer works for the restaurant, because he was able to find a job near his family 250 miles from San Francisco.

Others have graduated from back serving to serving and transitioned into working the bar, but in addition to their own personal success stories, the employees have been part of Cala’s success.

“The restaurant has had great acceptance into the city in part thanks to who we’ve hired. It adds to the experience,” says Rosenbush.

Tips for re-entry job seekers

Rosenbush offers tips for people in re-entry who are looking for a job:

  • Perseverance is very important. If you come back again and again it shows you really want to be there.
  • Look people in the eye. If I interview someone who doesn’t make eye contact that’s the first red flag.

Advice for businesses

She also has advice for restaurants or other business who are committed to hiring employees who were formerly incarcerated:

  • Have a lot of patience with your staff and support them during their the training. You might have to say things three times instead of just once.
  • Be aware of the other life issues that may come up for them.
  • Understand that employing someone and giving them a regular paycheck offers access to stability, and in some cases an opportunity to transition out of halfway housing and into their own living situation. You’re making a big impact on their lives.