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

Texas nonprofit hires ex-offenders to build houses for veterans

Maria Pic

Maria Schneider, Terra Shelter, Inc.

Maria Schneider is out to change the construction industry in Dallas, Texas, one ex-offender at time. Her way to do this: By building a nonprofit that sells rehabbed homes to veterans at below market rate prices and hires employees who were formerly incarcerated.

Her original plan was to rehab houses, but how she decided to hire formerly incarcerated workers came about in a rather serendipitous way.

Trained as an electrical engineer and a biomedical engineer, Schneider got started in construction in her late 20s. The only house she could afford to buy needed a lot of work, and she did it in her spare time. She loved the process and later launched a construction company.

“I had a residential custom building business in the mid 2000s. It was in Austin, and there was an economic boom there,” she says. “The only people I could find to work were ex-offenders, and I got to know them really well and started understanding some of the issues involved in reentry.”

These issues ranged from a lack of a place to live and bad relationships with family members to substance abuse and access to reliable transportation. Another issue was not having a way to make money, which Schneider solved by hiring them.

It wasn’t easy though. “You really have to start from scratch and teach them a lot of things besides the job. You have to teach them a lot of life skills and tell them what to do,” she says.

“But ex-offenders are excluded by a lot of places automatically, so if someone doesn’t include them they’re not going to end up with jobs. A lot of programs provide job training but not jobs. You have to provide them not just with the job training but a job that goes along with it, so they’ll have some income while they’re developing skills and be able to show some experience on their resume.”

After starting to build homes again and forming a nonprofit, Terra Shelter, Inc., Schneider remembered those workers she had once hired and wanted to create jobs for others like them. And she has. In fact, she has made it her mission to do so.

Although Schneider is just, as she says, starting out, her organization has already rehabbed five homes built in the 1920s and 1930s – most of which had to be completely gutted – and located in some of the worst neighborhoods in the city of Dallas.

She’s teamed up with the Tarrant County Housing Partnership. The organization works with several banks, which are required by the government to donate some of the foreclosed homes they receive to nonprofits as part of an anti-blight effort.

The organization began about a year and a half ago, when it received donated houses that were in pretty bad shape. “While our focus was on providing affordable housing, in the process I decided that what I really wanted to do was to work with ex-offenders and teach them the skills they needed to do the job,” she says.

Although working with employees who have been incarcerated has more than its share of challenges, Schneider has found many of them to be very loyal and hard working.

Up until now, she has hired people rather randomly. In the rough and tumble neighborhood of southeast Dallas where her nonprofit works rehabbing houses, she’s often approached by ex-offenders looking for work.

After dealing with the unreliability of some of the workers she hired this way, Schneider decided this recruitment method was unsustainable and has partnered with the Oasis Center, a nonprofit organization providing reentry services and mentoring that help formerly incarcerated individuals get a new start.

In the meantime, her site supervisor is an ex-offender, and Schneider tries to hire as many formerly incarcerated individuals as possible. If she can’t, however, she turns to veterans. Her plumber and electricians fall into this category.

The houses she’s rehabbed have been a really good learning experience, but as a sustainability consultant, Schneider is passionate about green building and would like to get into new home construction. “Trying to build green and affordable is kind of radical here in Texas,” she says.

But no doubt so is hiring ex-offenders. And both are challenges she’s determined to take on.