Gatekeepers founder Bill Gaertner launches mentoring program for ex-offender job seekers

Bill Gaertner

Bill Gaertner

Bill Gaertner, founder and director of Gatekeepers in Hagerstown Md., will soon launch a mentoring program that recruits members of the local faith community to work with citizens returning to the area from jails and prisons.

A former basketball coach at Norwich University and University of Connecticut, Gaertner was incarcerated late in life.

“I went into prison at the age of 61 for domestic violence and being an alcoholic. I imploded. While I was there I relied on all the tools of coaching and playing college athletics to get through, and then I got a chance to start a new life here,” he says.

When released, Gaertner committed his life to helping others who, like him, had spent time behind bars. He does this through his organization, Gatekeepers, whose stated mission is to motivate, empower and encourage ex-offenders. The organization achieves this through its Job Readiness Training Program, which is based on what Gaertner calls the “business of living.”

“We failed the business of living by going into the penal system,” he says. “Each person has the opportunity to start their own life business. Every day we look at our lives educationally, occupationally and personally. Every day we have to get smarter, get better at our jobs and be better people.”

In the program, participants are taught civics, speaking skills and anger management. They can join the Gatekeepers job club, which works with employers, parole and probation, and social service agencies. Over the past 2-1/2 years, 80 to 90 men have gotten starter jobs as a result.

Gatekeepers expands its I Got a Job Club

The next step is in the works. The I Got a Job Club, which has been a pilot project with three reentering citizens, will expand into a full-fledged program in March.

Gaertner plans to launch with eight to 12 people in reentry who have already gotten entry-level work. For the most part they’re pre-selected by Kairos Prison Ministry from the facilities in which it works.

“We get these guys identified while they’re still in prison. They’re being mentored by Kairos. We give them the initial services. But then they fall off the grid. They can keep their job for a while but they can’t stay straight. These people need coaches. They need people in their lives or it doesn’t work,” Gaertner says.

Those coaches will be volunteers from the faith-based community and from every walk of life, including some company owners.

They will meet together on alternate Saturday mornings at a local church. The two-hour sessions will begin with an explanation of the business of living concept, and individuals will give updates on where they are since they’ve gotten a job. After that introduction an expert will talk to them about a different subject each meeting, and then the group will break up for one-on-one or two-one-one mentoring.

Mentors are disciples, good listeners and friends

“I like to call it coaching. We say you’ve got a life coach,” Gaertner says. “I get them ready for mentoring (coaching). A mentor is a disciple, a good listener and a friend. He’s not going to give you legal advice. He’s not going to give you cash.”

The mentors are trained using a 20-page manual outlining their responsibilities and duties. Gaertner says that it’s almost like a 12-step program with a sponsor, which he refers to as an accountability partner.

Although starting small, he hopes to build the program to help meet the challenges that those returning to his county face. “In this detention center here in Hagerstown, there are 370 inmates and a 70% recidivism rate,” he says.

“There are a lot of good programs in the prisons but when they leave they leave all that behind.”

Gaertner and Gatekeepers are working hard to ensure that at least some of those leaving prison won’t themselves be left behind, as they learn to engage in the business of life.


Career Coaches take job search help to all corners of Tennessee

One of three Career Coaches operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

One of three Career Coaches operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

What is it about Tennessee and job search buses, and why don’t more places follow its lead?

When writing about Memphis Public Library’s JobLINC: Mobile Bus for Job Seekers and Employers recently, we also discovered that the entire state is covered by mobile One-Stop-type units that reach remote rural corners of Tennessee, as well as jails, prisons and homeless shelters.

The program is known as Career Coach – as in bus but also as in career counselor. And the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development operates three buses that cover the entire state.

The story of the Career Coach goes way back to the 1970s with a mobile unit that only lasted for a short time. But the information about it remained in the department’s files so no one would forget. And they didn’t. In 2011, the department applied for – and was granted – funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to buy three buses and outfit them to reach as many job seekers as possible.

The buses are like RVs, and each one has 10 laptops, a network printer, fax machine and copier, a 42” flat-screen TV with SmartBoard overlay, and a DVD/CD player, as well as high-speed satellite Internet. The Career Coaches also have career specialists who can help people with resumes and other things they need to do to get ready for job interviews.

Each bus is stationed in a different part of the state – one in Knoxville, another in Nashville and the third in Huntington in West Tennessee.

“We have made it an extension of our brick-and-mortar American Job Center,” said Nicholas Bishop, director grants and special projects of the Tennessee Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development, which oversees the Career Coach program. “We take the buses to prisons and jails. Even though they may be in a metro area that has access to a career center, the inmates may have restraints going to those centers,” he said.

Last month the three units combined provided service to 1,031 people at 73 events in 40 different Tennessee counties. Thanks to the use of backpacks with computers, mobile printers and Wi-Fi, the department can have two events going on at the same time.

Inside a Career Coach.

Inside one of the career coaches operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

“We’re kind of like the job squad,” said Bishop.

Chambers of commerce, churches, county jails and organizations can request a visit by a Career Coach online. Events are publicized by the organizations, as well as through Facebook, Twitter and email blasts to everyone in the area who is registered in the database. They’ve had anywhere from 10 to 200 people at an event.

The Career Coaches also go to jails and prisons five to 10 times per month and work with probation and parole offices. And last July, the department got all three units certified as testing sites for the HiSET (High School Equivalency Test).

“The problem we have in Tennessee is a lot of people who lack the high school credential don’t have convenient access to a testing site,” said Bishop. Inmates might take classes in jail but would have to be bussed two hours to take the test. “The mobile units are testing sites, and our team can go into a county jail facility and convert it into a testing site for the day.”

In April, the department administered the high school exam to 80 people, and 55 of those were incarcerated. “We hope that we can help rehabilitate inmates while they’re incarcerated and keep them from going back to jail,” Bishop said.

On some occasions the Career Coach career specialists offer workshops on resume writing, interviewing and basic computer skills. “We do them if an organization requests it but also provide one-on-one services for people who need help with resumes and other things,” he said.

In addition, company recruiters occasionally come on board. “They’ll interview people and do the drug screening right on the bus, and several people have been offered a job right on the spot,” Bishop said.

Not too long ago, the Career Coach went to Dickson near Nashville to begin recruiting employees for Dal-Tile’s newest manufacturing plant. The company not only concentrated on interviewing prospective employees but provided an info session for the community to get ready for the plant’s opening early next year. And it proved that the Career Coach can be used in many ways.

Other states are you listening?


Memphis Public Library bus offers unique service to job seekers

IMG_8898While many libraries around the country have special programs and services for job seekers, none can quite compare to the Memphis Public Library & Information Center’s mobile job search center.

Its JobLINC: Mobile Bus for Job Seekers and Employers gained the library the distinction as the 2014 Top Innovator in the economic and workforce development category, an award given by the Urban Libraries Council. And for good reason.

The library operates a 38-foot bus with 10 computer stations for job seekers and a station for recruiters who come on board. Patrons can work on resumes with help from librarians and take advantage of the online databases and computerized and hard copy reference materials.

“We go into the community to meet the people where they are,” says Robyn Stone, manager of the Memphis Public Library & Information Center’s JobLINC Services.

Although the program celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, the current bus is only about two years old. The library received a grant of $300,000 from the Plough Foundation to build and sustain the vehicle, which along with the computer workstations, has solar panels to allow it to operate without the use of a loud generator.

“The grant covered everything – the bus, furniture, books and safety equipment. It also left us with sustaining funds for programming as well as money to purchase other books and materials,” Stone said.

JobLINC travels to a variety of places that range from homeless shelters and grocery stores to apartment complexes, churches and community agencies. One of its busiest sites is DeafConnect of the Mid-South, Inc., which it visits once a month. The bus even goes to elementary schools for career days.

It operates between three and five days per week, usually from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and last year served between 6,000 and 7,000 people. That number includes attendees at the annual job fair held at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

JobLINC partners with organizations that include Tennessee Career Coach, a mobile career center operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor, which it did a joint session with this month at a men’s shelter.

Employers, who sometimes come onboard to recruit workers, have included the Veterans Administration, temporary employment agencies, Toys ‘R Us and Sears.

The bus also serves as a mobile classroom that can handle classes and workshops for up to 10 people.

The JobLINC program is an extension of the Library Information Center, a 211 agency that provides community and government information. The librarians who work in the program are Information & Referral Specialists, certified by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems, a nonprofit professional membership association.

In addition to the bus, JobLINC produces a blog with job postings and also puts on a yearly well-attended job fair.

For more information, visit JobLINC.


Get help cleaning up your record for free at the Papillon Foundation

SecondChanceA criminal arrest or conviction record can be the biggest impediment to getting gainful employment, and the two-year-old Papillon Foundation is determined to help teach those who have one how to get it expunged.

And if the number of hits the foundation’s website gets – between 300 and 500 per day – is any indication, there are a lot of people out there who want to learn how to do it. In fact, when former lawyer Alan Courtney – who founded the Creston Calif.-headquartered foundation with his wife, Nina – was in prison for white-collar crime, he found it was a serious concern among his fellow inmates.

“When I was in county jail and in prison this was like the number one thing that Inmates would talk about. It was that when they got out they could not get a job because of their criminal record. They couldn’t get a job, they couldn’t get housing, and they were worried,” Courtney says.

He realized that there’s a desperate need for this type of information, and when released in 2010 decided to do something about it. Courtney and his wife began collecting information in all 50 States, the District of Columbia and American Territories on how each state handles expungement in order to build their website.

It took about a year to get their nonprofit status, and now the couple supplies self-help information so that ex-offenders can apply for their own expungements, or if they need help – an average of about four per day do – the Courtneys will assist them.

The first step in that help is sending a standard email that explains how to use the website, since it’s designed for do-it-your-selfers.

The Courtneys ask the people who can’t make it work to send them their rap sheet. “Without the rap sheet we really can’t help them, because a lot of times they think they know what they were charged with, but it turns out to be something else,” he says.

“We also find lots and lots of mistakes on these rap sheets, and the rap sheet is what the courts go on, so what really happened doesn’t matter. Nine times out of ten there’s something strange on the rap sheet. Very rarely does it comply with exactly what they (the ex-offender) think it should be.”

In looking at who requests information, Courtney found an interesting phenomenon. “We get 75 percent of our inquiries from women, but women are less than 10 percent of the prison population,” he says. These women are not just doing it for themselves but for their sons, their brothers and their boyfriends.

While expunging records is not easy anywhere, there are several states where it is  particularly difficult, if not impossible.  According to Courtney, in New Mexico and Alaska there is no expungement at all, and New York only allows expungement of arrest records, not conviction records. Indiana recently changed its laws to allow expungements, and Oklahoma works on a county-by-county basis. Ex-offenders there must file in civil court in roughly half of the state’s counties and in criminal court in the other half.

The whole process is quite complicated, but the Papillon Foundation makes it a bit easier by offering a wide range of information that includes links to forms, articles, how-to guides, organizations and free legal resources for each state. For those seeking expungement, the website is an exceptionally helpful source.

Contact the Papillon Foundation through its website at, by phone at 805-712-3378 or by mail at:

The Papillon Foundation, P.O. Box 338, Creston, CA 93432-0338