Brooklyn-based Refoundry trains ex-offenders to create home furnishings out of discarded materials


Refoundry participant Dexter Nurse; Refoundry entreprenuers Gene Manigo/Kambui, Custom Craft, and James L Eleby Jr., Eleby Designs. (Photo by Christina Maida.)

Although there are other programs that teach formerly incarcerated individuals entrepreneurial skills, Refoundry takes a slightly different approach. This Brooklyn-based not-for-profit has trained its pilot project participants to create home furnishings out of discarded materials and learn how to sell them.

Although they may have felt discarded by society, participants become confident that they, like the furniture they create, have value and purpose.

“Everybody’s got creativity, and working with our hands is one of the things that define us as human beings. Building things is in our DNA,” says Tommy Safian, the organization’s co-founder and executive director.

“When participants are giving discarded material new value they feel like they’re giving themselves new value as well. It’s very personal. When they send these things out into the world and people who may have formerly looked down on them purchase and bring them into their homes, it makes our participants feel valued.”

Formerly incarcerated individuals display incredible talent

“We’re providing opportunities. A lot of people coming out of prison have an incredible amount of talent,” he says. And Refoundry’s pilot project has taken five of those people, taught them woodworking and entrepreneurial skills.

It may be a not-for-profit, but Safian, who previously had a business collecting furniture from the trash in L.A., refurbishing and selling it, runs Refoundry like a business. He has high expectations of the participants and funnels the profits made from the furniture sold by them back into their training.

Safian doesn’t recruit participants straight out of prison but rather finds those who are already being served by reentry organizations and set up in programs, including the anger management and addiction counseling programs required by the state of New York.

“We’re looking for people who are ambitious, who understand their role, who are willing to learn and who take personal and professional responsibility,” he says.

For the first nine months participants learn how to create furniture from discarded materials and are taught the customer service and entrepreneurial skills needed to sell the pieces they create at the weekly Brooklyn Flea (flea market).

Once trained, participants may go out and start their own business, which four of those in the organization’s pilot project have already done.

Building community

Safian tells a story that exemplifies what Refoundry is trying to achieve. One participant who sold a table to a couple at the flea market had been in prison for 30 years for murder. When he delivered the piece, the customers invited him and his wife to dinner to christen the table.

“Our model is designed to make those types of connections and open up the space so that people can meet on common ground and recognize each other as individuals,” he says.

“In our program the transaction happens hand-to-hand and face-to-face. People have stereotypical and denigrating opinions of each other, but within the space of that transaction, they develop empathy, understanding and common values, and these develop community.”

Refoundry plans expansion

Refoundry now takes up a unit at the Brooklyn Navy Yard but plans to expand by adding more units and possible satellite locations. Safian also said that organizations in 12 states are interested in bringing the model to their communities.

The organization is currently establishing a campus at the Navy Yard, which is expected be ready by the end of the year. It will have wrap around services and a classroom. Columbia Business School will teach financial literacy, the School of Visual Arts will provide design and Pratt Institute will teach web design. Community partner Shake Shack will provide hospitality training and offer participants short-term “Internships” at one of its outlets.

Because he realizes that not everyone has the skills or desire to run their own business, Safian also plans to train people in bookkeeping and sales and marketing so that they can be placed in jobs in Refoundry’s partner organizations. These skills will also help those who launch their own enterprises.

Embrace your story

Whether Refoundry participants start their own business or work for someone else, however, Safian urges them to share their story.

“We encourage our participants to embrace their story and use that in marketing their pieces. There’s a huge amount of talent in New York, and what distinguishes them is the story that they tell,” he says

“Embracing your story with a narrative that’s positive for them and has meaning for others is what’s going to help those coming out of prison find a job.”


Together We Bake cooks up recipe for reentry success

Together We Bake

Together We Bake participants create chocolate chip cookies to sell at Whole Foods, a farmers market and other places.

Alexandria, Va., nonprofit Together We Bake takes women who need a second chance and turns them into job ready candidates.

Its recipe: combine lessons in making chocolate chip cookies, granola and other goodies with experience doing inventory and making deliveries. Add a bit of confidence building and employment counseling. And provide ServSafe training, so participants graduate with a nationally recognized certification.

The program began in 2012 after former social worker Stephanie Wright and her running buddy, Tricia Sabatani, who previously worked with seniors and had a home-baked cookie business, discussed a variety of ventures and settled on Together We Bake.

Why they do what they do

“We wanted to help other people and started looking at our community, asking what was missing, what services were not being provided by the government or other organizations,” says Wright. “We quickly realized that job training was one of them.”

Over the past four years, the mostly previously incarcerated women have experienced an employment rate of 60% and even more impressive recidivism rate of just 6%.

Participants range in age from 22 to mid-60s, but the average age is about 40.

Together We Bake offers three classes each year, with 10 to 12 women in each class. The program takes place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. There are no strict requirements to participate.

“There’s no type of educational requirement, and a criminal background doesn’t matter,” says Wright. “We’re looking for them to make a commitment to the program and be wiling to do some hard work and some self work. They also must be willing to change their path and stay on a positive path.”

The way Together We Bake works

At the beginning of the day the women share something that’s empowering to them in a sort of confidence building exercise before the work begins. Participants work on teams. The business team does inventory, makes deliveries or whatever else is required at any particular time. When they deliver to Whole Foods, one of Together We Bake’s biggest accounts, the women get to stock the shelves and talk to the grocery manager.

The rest of the participants are in the kitchen on the baking team, the cleaning team and the prep team. After about two or three hours of work, the women participate in groups emphasizing empowerment, life skills, communications, goal setting and anger management.

The empowerment group is based on the Houses of Healing and Beyond Trauma curriculums.

“These are great resources that cover the subjects that we needed,” Wright says. “We’ve made it our own and picked the things that work for us. The woman who runs the empowerment groups is one of our graduates and has built some things into the program that she thinks are important from her own experiences being incarcerated.”

Together We Bake participants also take the National Restaurant Association Foundation’s ServSafe Food Safety Training Program, so they can be certified to do food service work.

Outside professionals conduct a two-session financial literacy group, in which the women learn budgeting and banking. They also pull their credit scores and practice making phone calls to creditors to explain their situation in order to boost their confidence so they will be able to rebuild their credit.

In addition, participants work with volunteers in the community selling the products they make at the local farmers market.

High completion rate 

The program’s completion rate is 83 percent, and when people drop out it’s for serious reasons, according to Wright.

“One of the participants got pregnant and was really sick. Another’s son got arrested, and she needed to stay home and take care of his child. We only terminated one person from the program because of issues and it was an attitude issue,” she says.

In addition to the training and education, Together We Bake participants are matched with local job counselor volunteers, who work one on one with the women to help them develop a resume, learn interviewing skills and practice completing online applications.

“It gives them extra support and helps them when they feel rejected because things don’t go their way,” Wright says.


Drive Change food truck biz trains formerly incarcerated youth


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.


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.


San Francisco Bay Area group delivers doula training program

Linda Jones, co-director of the The East Bay Community Birth Support Project's doula training program.

Linda Jones, co-director of the The East Bay Community Birth Support Project’s doula training program.

In a unique program that may be the only one of its type in the nation, The East Bay Community Birth Support Project is training formerly incarcerated women and women of color to become doulas.

For the uninitiated, a doula – from the ancient Greek meaning a woman who serves – is someone who provides physical and emotional support to a woman before, during and after she gives birth or offers the same services postpartum. A doula’s role is to make her client feel safe, comfortable and confident in the birth process by caring for her needs and helping her understand the process.

Although still not widely known, the doula profession is growing to cater to an increasing number of women who want a more personalized birth experience.

The idea for the doula-training program initially came from The Birth Justice Project, a San Francisco Bay Area organization of volunteer doulas who provide doula care and women’s health education to women in the San Francisco County Jail and local residential addiction recovery programs.

Although the original plan was to train eight formerly incarcerated women, the organizers soon realized that if the program only included those who had been in prison or jail, those women wouldn’t be able to keep their record private. So early on The Birth Justice Project partnered with Black Women Birthing Justice on a program that begins July 12 and includes eight formerly incarcerated women and eight women of color.

The training program details

The program consists of 24 hours of birth doula training during four days this month and a weekend of post-partum training in August. Each participant is being paired with a mentor doula who will attend their first few births with them. The mentors commit to five births, which can take place in a hospital, a birthing center or a home – in all about a six-month commitment.

“We hope our group of trainees can become a collective, and work together so they’re not all constantly on call, says Darcy Stanley, co-coordinator of the Birth Justice Project who is involved in the doula training program.

In addition to training doulas in the actual work they will do, the program is designed to help the participants learn how to market themselves and run a business as a doula.

“This training is not just about how birth works. The reason we’re doing the training is so when they’re done they can put together a business and know how it works,” says Linda Jones, cofounder of Black Women Birthing Justice who is also involved in the doula program.

“That’s why we’re having mentors. They can go with them and talk with clients and show how that works.”

The two women are talking to county programs and a couple of birth centers, as well as doulas about job placement potentials for the participants once they graduate from the program.

And Jones feels it’s especially important to train more women of color to be doulas.  “We want to have our community know that there’s such a thing as a doula and that we’re there for them,” she says.

“If they (women of color) happen to have a doula, it’s a volunteer, 20-something white girl. Our focus is to get more people of color wanting to be doulas. In order to have the knowledge and the inclination to do something, you have to have someone who looks like you doing it.”

And for the formerly incarcerated, being a doula might work out to an excellent career, free of job interviews and dealing with “the box.”

Although the first class is full and funding for this round only lasts until next April, Jones and Stanley are looking at how they might get future funding to keep the project going. They would ultimately like to bring in Spanish-speaking doulas – and possibly Vietnamese and Chinese as well.

For more information on the training program, visit the East Bay Community Birth Project’s page on the Birth Project’s website. To learn more about the doula profession, check out Dona International, a membership organization for professional doulas.


Wisconsin prison timebank creates safety net, opportunities

MP900384768Timebanking, an alternative economy in which people exchange services instead of cash, is a way to build community and redefine the value of work. And in the case of the Dane County Timebank in Madison, Wisconsin, it’s a way to create a social network for those in reentry.

It was the idea of Cheri Maples, the former head of probation and parole for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. When a neighbor-to-neighbor timebank was created in Madison, she saw it as an opportunity to provide a safety net for people getting out of prison.

That was in 2007, and since then timebank programs designed to include incarcerated people and those in reentry have been instituted by a variety of groups working together – the Dane County Timebank, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Madison Urban Ministry, a local Buddhist sangha and others.

These groups have done training for or created – or attempted to create – programs in the Dane County Jail, Fox Lake Correctional Institute, Columbia Correctional Institute, Jackson Correctional Institute, Burke Correctional Center, Oregon Correctional Center, Stanley Correctional Center, Community Corrections and Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility.

How it works

The process in many cases begins while people are still in prison.  Workers from inside the walls have painted neighborhood centers, rehabbed an old office and done landscaping and other work for nonprofit agencies. In addition, a dog-training program was created in which prisoners get time dollars, as does the person from the outside doing the training.

The work experience not only gives prisoners community connections that might provide opportunities post release, but they’re also paid time dollars to spend on such things as rides to job interviews, help with resume and interview skills, child care and other services they might need as they restart their lives. And once out, they can continue to work and earn time dollars.

“For prisoners it’s another resource,” says Maples. “They can make contacts and get references by doing timebank exchanges. Parole officers can also suggest that they do a certain number of timebanking exchanges to help them with the reentry process.”

Participating in timebanking also creates a safety net for those incarcerated. That safety net may be useful once they’re released. It also can be a means to connect them with people who might be able to help them find housing or employment or provide access to other resources. Or it may just result in a new friendship or even a mentor for those who take the initiative.

While creating a timebank is a good start, Maples wants to expand the effort. “The next step is to try to get business owners onboard, so that after so many successful exchanges they’d be willing to hire this person,” she says.

Creating a program of your own

Maples offers advice for other groups or timebanks who might want to start a similar program.

“First, you have to start a neighbor-to-neighbor timebank. Then after you have the core of that together, you can begin training people who are interested in going into the prisons and volunteering with people who will be coming out of prison,” she says. “You have to have some safety guidelines. Then you have to find people willing to make exchanges with formerly incarcerated people.”

That’s what it takes for anyone who might be interested.

For more information and a directory of timebanks worldwide, check out an organization known as TimeBanks USA.


L.A. Kitchen cooks up program for training older ex-offenders

Robert Egger, the founder of L.A. Kitchen.

Robert Egger, the founder of L.A. Kitchen.

L.A. Kitchen, a startup nonprofit expected to launch early next year, will train older ex-offenders – those at least 60 years old – for food service jobs. It will also tackle the problem of hunger among the elderly and work to keep youth leaving the foster care system out of prison.

It may be a lot to attempt, but founder Robert Egger is more than up to the task. As the former president of D.C. Central Kitchen, which has been feeding the hungry for nearly 25 years, he knows what it takes.

But L.A Kitchen will be a bit different than what he’s done in the past. Rather than focus on the homeless in general, the attention will turn towards seniors, who Egger says will be the next source of homelessness and poverty in America. His idea attracted the AARP Foundation, which became a founding partner and has committed $1 million over the next three years to an effort which embodies all of the foundation’s focus areas: hunger, income, housing and isolation among older Americans (50 year olds and up).

In fact, nearly one-third of the homeless population of Los Angeles is over the age of 50, and a UCLA study released in 2007 found that 47 percent of older Californians did not make enough money to cover their basic needs. (The number was slightly higher in LA. County.)

But back to the project. L.A. Kitchen plans to get fruits and vegetables – produce that’s overripe, blemished and cosmetically imperfect – donated or to buy them at a reduced price. These could come directly from farmers, from wholesale markets or imported food that arrives at a Los Angeles port past its prime. The organization will process what it gathers into healthy meals for older people and others.

“There’s a huge business behind trying to provide healthy meals for older people,” Egger says. And he plans to tap into that through L.A. Kitchen and its for-profit division, Strong Food. Strong Food will sell fresh produce, as well as products made from that produce. Among its employees will be graduates of the training program that L.A. Kitchen is setting up.

The 12-week training program has been designed to inculcate a variety of culinary skills and produce graduates who are certified ServSafe food handlers. Students will receive a stipend while attending classes and potentially a job when they graduate, either in Strong Food or possibly at a temporary agency that Eggers would like to create to provide culinary workers to hospitals and other institutions.

The training will be a unique experiment, bringing together older students coming out of the correctional system and kids coming out of foster care.

“Statistically kids coming out of foster care are on their way to prison,” says Egger. “Can we foster a multigenerational mentoring system? Can younger men and women help older people re-acclimate to a world that’s very different (than the one they left to go to prison)? Can the older people help keep the younger people out of prison?”

These questions are yet to be answered. But if the responses are yes, the program may provide a new social model that could help lower both first-time incarceration and recidivism rates and provide steady work to those who might have a tough time finding it otherwise.

As for the ex-offenders, “It’s not enough just to train and employ people. You have to have something that helps people catch up for the years they spent behind bars,” Egger says.


NEW finds success in placing women in trade union jobs

Participant in Nontraditional Employment for Women training.

Nontraditional Employment for Women trainee.

Those beginning the reentry process and starting to look for a job should seriously consider the trades – a type of employment that tends to be ex-offender friendly, can provide steady work and pays well with great benefits. And Nontraditional Employment for Women in New York City is determined to make sure that more women can take advantage of the opportunities that blue-collar work offers.

In spite of the many advantages of the trades, women have entered them at a painfully slow pace. The most recent statistics available from the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor show that they make up only 1 percent of roofers and electricians; 1.4 percent of carpenters; 1.5 percent of pipe layers, pipe fitters and plumbers; 3.9 percent of machinists; and 5.4 percent of welders.

Nontraditional Employment for Women is out to change that. It’s been around for 35 years, and since 2005 has helped more than 600 graduates of its programs find work as carpenters, electricians, ironworkers, plumbers, painters, operating engineers and sheet metal workers, with at least another 225 finding employment in transportation, energy and facilities maintenance.

According to Evelyn Parr, the organization’s manager of partner and supporter relations, NEW serves approximately 500 women annually and placed more than 30 women in union positions during the past year – after they completed the organization’s pre-apprenticeship training program.

NEW offers a six-week, full-time Blue Collar Prep class that gives an overview of construction industry apprenticeships and trades in New York City; instruction in math as it relates to the trades; and hands-on shop classes to give students an introduction to carpentry, painting and electrical work, among other subjects. Students are also taught interview skills and how to deal with discrimination and sexual harassment on the job.

Another six-week pre-apprenticeship program, ReNEW, focuses on green-collar jobs and includes classes on such things as solar theory, environmental literacy and building science. It also provides hands-on workshops in which students are introduced to solar panel installation, residential home weatherization, carpentry and environmental math.

As a result of the training, ReNEW graduates have been placed in jobs related to weatherization, urban agriculture and cool roofs, as well as positions in the areas of energy efficiency and sustainability.

After women complete the pre-apprenticeship training and gain employment, NEW provides a support system with regular advanced training workshops, networking events and union services, as well as ongoing social services.

For more information on NEW, visit


Other organizations

NEW is an excellent example of an organization helping women enter the trades, but there are others doing similar work in cities around the U.S.

Here are a few of them:


Moore Community House: Women in Construction, Biloxi, Miss.

This project was launched after Hurricane Katrina to provide job-training so that low-income women could obtain well-paying jobs and to help rebuild the Gulf Coast after the storm’s devastation.


Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., Portland Ore.

Oregon Tradeswomen offers a variety of programs, including a free seven-week Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class, which includes training in basic trades math and the use of hand and power tools, along with information on green building and job site safety and construction culture. Participants get 30 hours of experience working on actual job sites.


Women in Non Traditional Employment Roles (WINTER), Los Angeles

WINTER conducts training programs lasting two to ten weeks that help women from challenged backgrounds embark on a variety of employment paths, including construction and building trade apprenticeships, environmental remediation and green jobs. The organization offers both day and evening classes.


Women Unlimited, Augusta, Maine

Women Unlimited offers a variety of courses and workshops ranging in length from a half day to six weeks. These include a six-week Construction Craft Laborer certificate course and an eight-week Intermediate Carpentry certificate course, as well as such trainings as a two-day Introduction to Blueprint Reading and a one-day Exploration in Welding workshop.


Building boats helps youth offenders build confidence and job skills

Alexandria Seaport Foundation apprentices learn construction, math and other skills as they work together to build one of the program’s boats.

An innovative wooden boatbuilding program in Alexandria, Va. helps young people, many of whom have been incarcerated, gain the skills, confidence and knowledge needed to prepare them for employment.

Operated by the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, the program offers paid apprenticeships to 18- to 22-year-olds, who not only learn to build boats and wooden furniture but also are taught academic subjects.

About 48 mostly young men, with an occasional woman, participate in the program each year. Some 50 to 60 percent of them have been through the court system. They usually learn about the program from their parole officer or from a former participant.

The apprenticeship program operates from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and lasts approximately six to eight months. Apprentices rotate between the academic classroom, hands-on math instruction and the boatbuilding shop. The hands-on math curriculum teaches them the math skills needed for boatbuilding and carpentry work, and in the shop they learn to use tools and basic carpentry skills.

Each apprentice is handled on an individual basis, depending on their academic background, and those who have not graduated from high school are given extra academic instruction so they can pass the GED exam.

Learning life and social skills

Apprentices also learn the sort of life skills necessary to be a member of the workforce. “It’s a paid apprenticeship program. They’re learning to be there on time, do projects and write the reports on those projects, and learn how to have a good attitude,” says Kathy Seifert, the organization’s director of development.

“We try to emulate the real world. If they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, they get their pay docked. There’s a lot of life-skill and social-skill training. We also have an enrichment program on Fridays, where we teach them everything from banking to car repairs. We even had a session on nutrition and eating habits.”

Applicants take a test that measures their ability in reading, writing and math and go through an interview process. They then have to complete a three-week screening trial period before being accepted into the program.

The apprentices work on small and large projects, depending on their skill level and where they are in the program. Some of them are in the process of completing a new 30-foot Potomac River dory boat and beginning to build another.

This month the foundation launched its whaleboat project, in which it will build a 28-foot whaleboat for the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Conn. Once completed, it will join a fleet of whaleboats that will sail to historic ports along with the Charles W. Morgan – the last remaining whale ship – when it is relaunched in the summer of 2014 after being restored.

Under a new Alexandria Seaport Foundation venture known as Seaport Woodworks, apprentices also are building Adirondack chairs and other outdoor furniture.

Once they complete the program, the foundation helps them get a job. “When the economy was great, we guaranteed them a job, but that’s not the case anymore, especially for construction,” says Seifert.

“We do everything we can to get them a job or hold them here until we find them one. It’s not just construction and carpentry. We’ve had kids go into restaurants; they’ve gotten jobs at a local plumber. We give them a sense of self-esteem and the ability to know that they can make it in the world. It’s the project-based learning that seems to be the catalyst for these kids getting it together.”

For more information visit


The Bread Project rises to offer new opportunities to ex-offenders

Students learn baking techniques at The Bread Project’s training center in Emeryville, Calif.

As one of a growing number of social ventures employing ex-offenders springing up around the nation, the Emeryville, Calif.-based The Bread Project has created a unique program to train low-income people in culinary arts. And the organization recently hired Dale Ray, former executive chef of Napa’s famous Mustards Grill, to help take its programs to the next level.

For more than a decade The Bread Project has been training its low-income students for entry-level positions in high-volume baking facilities, cafes, restaurants and bakeries.

Trainees must be at least 18 years of age, must not make more than 80 percent of the area’s median income, have no violent felonies or sex offenses on their record in the past seven years and no outstanding arrest warrants, have at least five months of sobriety and live in stable housing. In addition, they must demonstrate basic math skills and a certain reading level, and be able to lift 25 pounds and to stand for up to eight hours.

Staff members do outreach to soon-to-be-released inmates at Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, Calif., as well as San Quentin State Pirson. About 28 percent of the students are ex-offenders.

Two programs teach different skills

The Bread Project offers two programs, each 360 hours total in length. The 12-week bakery production training program at the organization’s Emeryville headquarters teaches students basic baking techniques and how to use commercial bakery equipment, along with knowledge of weights and measures, knife and prep skills and food safety and sanitation, among other things.

The nine-week food service training program which takes place on the campus of the Berkeley Adult School in neighboring Berkeley, Calif., trains students in culinary techniques and vocabulary, barista skills, knife and prep skills, how to operate a cash register and customer service skills.

The two curriculums incorporate 45 hours of job readiness preparation that includes help with such things as writing resumes and learning how to conduct interviews. Volunteers from Chevron Corp. come in for a day and conduct mock interviews, teach proper handshake techniques and do a series of networking games with the students.

The Bread Project is in the process of putting together a mentorship program and hopes to have 30 dedicated mentors by December.

Post-graduation follow-up

After students graduate, they’re given job leads and help with their search. “We have a new relationship with Starbucks,” says Alicia Polak, The Bread Project’s executive director. “It hired 19 of the 19 people we presented to them last Friday (Sept. 21), and they will work in South San Francisco (at the La Boulange baking facility).” Starbucks bought the San Francisco Bay Area bakery chain La Boulange Café & Bakery in June.

Trainees have also found jobs at Safeway, the AgeSong retirement communities, Wal-Mart Stores, Sugar Bowl Bakery, Rubicon Programs and Donsuemor, among other places.

Seventy-five percent of the organization’s 19 full-time staff members are former trainees, and The Bread Project has further expanded its workforce by hiring Chef Dale Ray to head up training and development and revise its catering menu. Ray’s resume includes stints at the Inn at Little Washington, Lettuce Entertain You and, most recently, as executive chef at Napa’s Mustard Grill.

The Bread Project receives about two-thirds of its funding from corporations and foundations, including Chevron Corp. and the East Bay Community Foundation, and one-third from its social enterprise revenue.

The organization runs a café at the Berkeley Adult School site, sells muffins to the Berkeley Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District, sells baked goods to Johnny Appleseed Café in Oakland’s Children’s Fairyland park and other places, as well as does catering for a variety of clients.

And when word gets around that Chef Dale Ray is now onboard, the organization’s catering business is expected to grow.

For more information, visit