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

Hot Chicken Takeover improves lives of those in reentry

Hot Chicken Takeover

Some of Hot Chicken Takeover’s team members.

You might not realize it when you dig into a plate of spicy chicken wings at Columbus, Ohio’s Hot Chicken Takeover (HCT), but this restaurant serves a side of social justice along with its popular cuisine. It’s just one more proof that a business can be successful while at the same time helping those leaving prison get their lives back together.

After tasting Nashville’s famous hot chicken and realizing that there was nothing like it in Columbus, founder Joe DeLoss and his wife Lisa began serving their own version out of their car in a parking lot on weekends. It became a hit, and soon the two found space indoors on the second floor of the city’s North Market, where they were able to serve customers on a more regular basis.

DeLoss took his experience as the founder of a sandwich catering business – a subsidiary of Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio that hired employees from homeless shelters – and applied it to his new restaurant.

Majority of staff members have been incarcerated

“Seventy percent of the staff is previously incarcerated,” says Cam Williams, the company’s director of operations. “Through media and referrals we attract people who may not have luck finding work elsewhere.”

Hot Chicken Takeover also receives referrals from organizations, including Kind Way, led by a former warden at three Ohio correctional institutions. She put together a group of business leaders who go into prisons and work with people while they’re still inside and provide a support system when they get out.

The staff of HCT operates the restaurant as well as a food truck that serves chicken at events and Columbus Crew professional soccer team games.

In addition to the food it serves and the community it creates through communal dining – the restaurant’s tables are all long and to be shared – HCT carries out a social mission to help formerly incarcerated individuals launch new lives upon release. As they say, “It’s about more than just chicken.”

“We provide financial, personal and professional growth opportunities,” says Williams. “We have a benefits coordinator who connects people with local resources, including Kemba Financial Credit Union, which helps them open a bank account for savings and has even been working with our staff who have been incarcerated for crimes including check fraud.”

Other employee benefits include a savings match program for people who are saving for things like transportation and education, with a 2-to-1 match of up to $700 per year. Employees are also offered an opportunity to meet twice a month with a financial coach to help them plan their financial future. Community partners help secure housing if they need it, because as a university town, it can be difficult to find affordable housing with good landlords in Columbus. And if necessary, there’s a licensed counselor to help with personal crises as they arise.

Although Hot Chicken Takeover provides its employees with an unusual level of services, Williams makes it clear that they’re running a business not a charity.

“We don’t see it as charitable,” he says. “The only thing we do that is charitable is give people a chance.”

Hot Chicken Takeover has high employee retention rate

And the effort pays off in dedicated employees. “We’re sitting at 60% retention. The industry standard is 100% to 150% turnover,” he says.

Although the company plans to operate another restaurant by the end of the year and is currently looking for a location, HCT has its sights set on something greater than selling chicken – hopefully starting a consulting business to help other companies do what it is doing.

“We’re not in this to be restauranteurs,” says Williams. “We’re passionate about expanding the human resources model that we have. We see it as a replicable system that other restaurants or warehouses could include in their business. We’re justifying what we do as being an economic solution not just doing something good. It’s a business that directly benefits from our social mission through retaining employees and not having to retrain them.”