Getting a job can be the first step toward a fresh start in life. But what if you have a criminal record? For Robert, it made finding a job nearly impossible with more than 20 employers turning him away after learning he served time in prison.
“They would love me,” Robert said of his interviews with managers looking to fill a position. “But when I would get to the human resources department they would look at my record and turn me down.”
Robert, who moved to Houston from Louisiana in hopes of getting a fresh start after being released from prison four years ago, spent day after day filling out applications and driving to interviews. With no work history and having been convicted of a felony, Robert’s fresh start seemed out of reach. That was until he was referred to the Workfaith Connection, a faith-based nonprofit agency that helps people transitioning from prison, recovery or homelessness build their skillsets to find employment.
“The men and women who come out of prison desiring a new life have the same dreams that you and I have,” said Sandy Schultz, chief executive officer and president of Workfaith. “They have dreams of being a good parent, owning their own home, and seeing their children have better educational opportunities than they did.”
“There is a strong desire to do life differently, but there’s not always the opportunity to do so,” Schultz said of the men and women Workfaith serves.
“I never realized the process of finding a job,” said Robert, who spent most of his adult life in prison. “They really helped me.”
Workfaith is one 750 agencies involved in the city’s Combined Municipal Campaign, an annual fundraising drive that gives city employees an opportunity to donate to charities of their choice.
“The CMC raises money for those in need,” said Jennifer Cobb, citywide coordinator for the CMC. “And it also gives people a second chance at life.”
Like hundreds of other CMC agencies, Workfaith relies on donations and volunteers to provide vital services to the community. This year’s CMC theme is “We Rise by Lifting Others.” The campaign spotlights how donating and volunteering can restore dignity to those who are often overlooked or forgotten.
Last year, city employees generously donated more than $750,000 to CMC agencies that provide basic necessities, educational programming, and job re-entry resources to the community—much like the job search resources provided by Workfaith that helps people facing life challenges build the skills they need to find jobs.
Second chance at life
“We as a community need to embrace our role in giving them a different opportunity and the ability to live life in a different way,” Schultz said of Workfaith’s clients.
Since opening its doors in 2007, Workfaith has served more than 4,500 men and women. Of those, half of them have a prior felony conviction with more than 70 percent finding work after completing Workfaith’s 8-Day Job Search Workshop. The workshop aims to teach participants how to get and keep jobs, with emphasis on learning the job application process and resume and interview skills.
“We mimic what it would be like when you’re on a job. It’s a very professional environment. We don’t tolerate tardiness or absenteeism,” Debbie Godbold, development director for Workfaith. “They learn how to identify their skills, talents and experience and put that into a resume.”
After completing the workshop, participants are matched with job coaches and come up with a job search plan. Job coaches meet and work with graduates until they find employment.
One week after completing the workshop, Robert was hired by a local glass cutting company as a brake press operator.
“They took a chance on me and hired me,” said Robert. “It’s the only job I’ve ever had in my whole life.”
Along with serving people in transition, Workfaith serves those who have been unsuccessful in their job search.
“About 25 percent of the people we serve are just discouraged,” Godbold said. “They may have a college degree, they may have worked for many years at a position but suddenly they are laid off.”
Workfaith hosts more than 50 job search workshops a year. The CMC donations it receives goes toward funding those classes.
“Putting people back to work is such a joy,” she said. “It’s not only getting a paycheck it’s a feeling of accomplishment for them. It’s a feeling of, ‘I am able to support my family’.”
While Godbold is grateful for city employees who donate, she also believes volunteering can further help their cause.
“We invite people to participate in what’s going on here at Workfaith,” she said.
In May 2017, Robert bought his first home, got married, and has worked hard to build accountability for his past while creating a new path for himself.
“It’s almost like I have a spiritual connection with the city,” Robert said of his time here in Houston. “All of it’s because they allowed me to work.”
Whether providing a family’s next meal or providing access to educational and work opportunities, city employees unite through the CMC to support their communities. Let’s continue our tradition of giving back and working together to lift others.