S.F. Bay Area philanthropist Matt Mochary sends ex-offenders to truck driving school

 

Matt MocharyThere are many ways that people become involved with helping formerly incarcerated individuals get back on their feet, but Matt Mochary’s story is rather unique. And what he does now – he sends people getting out of jail to truck driving school – proves, once again, that jobs are key to preventing recidivism.

After selling his company Totality Corp. to Verizon at the age of 31, Mochary had enough money to pursue other interests. What he decided to do was make movies. His first, Favela Rising, was shot in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The second, The Gloves, focused on heavyweight boxers who live and train in the South Bronx. Both of them opened his eyes to another existence of which he was previously unaware.

“When I was in Brazil making a documentary, I ended up spending a lot of time in the favelas. I realized there were no jobs there. The best job the people who live in the favelas could get was joining the drug gangs,” he says.

Mochary found the same thing to be true in the South Bronx. “I realized that if I had been born in that zip code I’d be a gang member as well as a gang leader. I had the thought that maybe convicted felons in the country are just doing what they have to do to eat. To survive,” he says.

He decided to test out his theory by working with an inmate being released from Riker’s Island, who had been incarcerated since the age of 14. “It was shockingly easy. I thought why wouldn’t I hire you. Because you look like a thug, talk like a thug and act like a thug. So I helped him look, act and dress like a kid who’d gone to an Ivy League college,” he says. (Mochary graduated from Yale University.)

After release, the guy got a job, but when they discovered his record the he was fired. And it happened several times. So Mochary decided that those leaving jail and prison need jobs where their record doesn’t matter. That would be construction work, truck driving or farm labor, and truck driving seemed to be the easiest of those to procure.

Shortage of qualified applicants for truck and bus driver job openings

According to Mochary’s research there are often shortages of qualified applicants for available truck and bus driver positions. And the pay can be pretty good – $20-$25 per hour to start. Driving public passenger buses usually pays more, though, and the benefits are often better. Therefore, in most cases, Mochary suggests training for and taking a passenger bus driving test.

Mochary now works through his Mochary Foundation, created to help previously incarcerated individuals find jobs and to train the brightest kids in the poorest neighborhoods to be computer programmers.

He began working with inmates at San Francisco County Jail nine months ago and has put eight people through truck driver training, all of whom are fully employed.

Most truck driving schools offer 10-week courses, but Mochary has found schools that can train people in a week. People can start studying for the California DMV commercial drivers written test while still incarcerated and then take the training when out.

Passing the test is not easy and requires many hours of study and taking practice tests, which are included in the materials Mochary provides. Even though it takes hard work and effort, those who are motivated and who put the required time in will have a pretty good chance of passing the test.

The total cost for each participant is about $2,250. The DMV test is $73, the medical exam $80, one week of truck driving school $2,000, and transportation to and from school for a week $100.

Willing to finance training for hundreds of people

Meanwhile, Mochary says he is willing to finance the training of “hundreds of people” but doesn’t want to handle the logistics of the inmates studying the test material and then committing to going to truck driving school.

“I need someone else to get excited about it. I wanted to prove to myself that it could work, and I’ve already done that. I’d like to find a national organization that already exists and have them adopt the program,” he says.

Until Mochary finds that organization he is willing to accept referrals of California jail inmates who are interested in participating, but they would need the support of someone inside the jail or a volunteer organization working there.

That person or organization could print out the study materials that Mochary provides and hand them to the inmate, administer practice exams when ready and then follow up to connect that person with Mochary, so he could sponsor the truck driving school training. The money transfer part can be handled through the service league at each jail.

Mochary has written a short guide on how to administer a California Driver’s Licensing Truck Driving Training Program in jail or prison. As part of a desire to help give “thousands and thousands” of people a second chance, he has generously offered to share his guide and handouts with jail contacts and/or organizations in California to support California referrals. He is also willing to share the information with out-of-state organizations that would like to replicate his program in their own state. Since laws can be different in different states the appropriate local state agencies should be consulted before launching a program.

Anyone who might be interested should contact Mochary at matt@mochary.com.

Things to consider before training to be a trucker

Although many people love the freedom of the road, being a long-haul trucker is not an easy life. It can be lonely and wreak havoc on families and relationships. (Although team driving as a couple may be able to help take care of the relationship problem.)

From our research we learned a few things to pass on:

  • Working for a smaller company can sometimes mean higher pay and an employer that may value its drivers more.
  • Be wary of being an independent contractor, as it can in many cases be a financial nightmare.
  • Depending on where you’d like to live, driving a public bus may be the best option. If not that, a truck driving job which allows you  to come home each day can be better for your personal life and health than being a long-haul truck driver.
  • Not being on the road for extended periods of time will also offer an opportunity to attend night school or other retraining programs in the evenings and on weekends. This is something to consider, since  self-driving trucks may eventually force truckers to consider other career options.

 

 

 

 

Drive Change food truck biz trains formerly incarcerated youth

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Drive Change members celebrate their selection for the People’s Choice Award and the Vendy Cup at the 2015 Vendy Awards, New York City’s highest honor for mobile vendors.

While the food business often serves up employment opportunities for those in reentry, Drive Change takes the idea one step further.

The New York City nonprofit’s Snow Day food truck sells an interesting menu of maple syrup-themed cuisine with a side of social justice, while at the same time helping formerly incarcerated young people get the training and work experience they so desperately need.

The organization was the inspiration of Jordyn Lexton, who taught at the public high school on New York City’s notorious Riker’s Island prison complex, in which 16-year-olds are considered adults.

“When I found myself on Riker’s Island I was completely blown away by how truly abusive the conditions are,” she says. “My students were leaving with felony convictions rather than juvenile adjudications. When leaving they were met by dead ends, and way too many of my students under different circumstances would have lived crime free.”

Post Riker release opportunities

While at Rikers, Lexton was thinking of business opportunities that could help young Rikers inmates after they’re released.

“There was a culinary arts class on Rikers, and it was one of the only classes where they were happy,” she says. “My own passion for eating, mixed with the realization that the food industry could provide employment and teaching, was where the idea came from.”

Food trucks seemed the best option for her business, because they can provide human connections and raise awareness of injustice inside the system better than restaurants can, she says.

So Lexton spent a year working on a taco truck and researched other food businesses on the side. By the spring of 2014, her organization was up and running and had launched Snowday, its first food truck. Snowday prepares cuisine using ingredients sourced from farms in New York City and beyond.

It caters events and posts its weekly schedule on Twitter. Drive Change also uses the truck as a tool to raise awareness about injustice within the prison system. On days when there’s a rally about reform at Rikers, for example, the organization seeks funding from donors to cover the cost of getting the truck to the event to serve food.

Funding for Drive Change

The money to buy Snowday came from a June 2013 fundraiser at an art gallery that raised about $45,000 from 300 attendees. Those who came promoted the indiegogo campaign that began the next day to their social media circles. That campaign raised another $24,000.

Lexton had built up a large network herself, thanks to her experience in the food truck industry and with criminal justice organizations. She reached out to them, as well as family and friends, to establish an individual giving platform and began to apply for foundation grants.

Snow Day began operations in April 2014, and Drive Change received its first two substantial foundation grants in the fall of 2014. These allowed it to build a kitchen training classroom originally located at the Center for Social Innovation but now in the historic former Pfizer building in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Employees must be between 16 and 25 years of age and treated as an adult in the criminal justice system. Referrals come from other organizations and reentry services. Drive Change received 66 referrals for eight open positions this past spring.

Applicants fill out an application, which Lexton says is a bit challenging and includes an essay. Of the 66 people who were originally referred only 30 completed the application.

Another requirement is that people have stable housing. “It can be a shelter or transitional housing, but knowing where someone is sleeping every night is important for employment,” Lexton says.

When people first hire on, they go through a five-week training period to receive food safety and New York Food Handlers certifications. During training, employees are paid minimum wage but upon graduation begin at $11 per hour.

During the next four to six months, Drive Change employees work in both the prep kitchen and on the truck. They also take classes in social media, marketing, hospitality, money management and small business development to prepare them for future employment or to create businesses of their own.

Although Drive Change is a nonprofit, it’s structured to own a profit LLC. The food truck is a third of its overall operating budget and is close to covering its own costs, according to Lexton.

Model for growth

The organization’s original goal was to operate a fleet of food trucks, but it has developed a different model for growth.

It plans to build a garage, a sort of food truck commissary, where other food truck operators can park their trucks, store goods, buy products and provide facilities for their employees to change clothes. Owners who park their trucks in the garage will be required to hire Drive Change employees. Lexton’s vision is to work with 120 people on 10 to 15 trucks.

And she doesn’t think that will be a problem for several reasons. The fact that New York City food trucks often have trouble finding a space for overnight parking is one of them.

“We’ve figured out by investing in this space, we can actually benefit the businesses of other food trucks in New York City. It will make their operations more efficient, lower their costs on goods and amenities and be good for their bottom line,” she says. ‘They also get the privilege of hiring these young people. It’s very hard for food trucks to find licensed and credentialed employees.”

What Drive Change is doing must be working. On Sept. 12 it won two Vendy Awards, the Oscars of mobile vending for New York City. The organization was honored with the People’s Choice Award and the grand prize Vendy Cup.

“No other vendor in the 11 years of the award has been able to achieve that,” Lexton says.