Defy Ventures, a New York City-headquartered nonprofit that provides entrepreneurship, employment and character training to people in re-entry, is expanding its new initiative, CEO of Your New Life.
The program, which began last summer, takes the organization’s work into prisons and jails, working with incarcerated men and women to provide the knowledge and skills that will help ensure their re-entry will be more successful and less traumatic than it would be without them.
Launched in California State Prison-Solano in Vacaville, Calif., and the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno, Calif., in July, CEO of Your Own Life also operates in Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie, NY, and Wallkill Correctional Facility in Wallkill, NY. Defy also plans to launch the program in New Jersey’s Essex County jail system.
Here’s how it works. Forget the label inmate, prisoner or whatever. A participant is known as an Entrepreneur-in-Training (EIT), and the instruction has been created as a 10-step series designed to be administered over a 10-week period, although it could vary depending on the institution. Ideally, there will be two video-recorded courses with three hours of instruction time four days per week.
EITs also keep a Defy Journal in which they complete assignments and reflect on their thoughts and self-discoveries as they progress through the program.
The curriculum focuses on job readiness, entrepreneurship, tech basics, personal finance, etiquette, character development and re-entry planning. The faculty who have created the videos include formerly incarcerated individuals, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, Harvard and Stanford professors, and top career coaches, as well as character development experts.
In addition to the instruction, Defy hosts a couple of events per cohort within each facility where it operates CEO of Your New Life. These usually include a business night when it brings in professionals to do interviews and help with resumes, as well as a business pitch competition for those who are interested in starting their own businesses upon release.
One of these competitions took place at the California State Prison-Solano on December 17, with the top five finalists receiving prizes of between $100 and $500 that they will be able to collect upon release.
Overall, successful participants are expected to experience one or more of three likely outcomes. They will be able to:
- gain the confidence, learn goal setting and create a vision to run their own business and secure financing to make it happen.
- receive the assistance, coaching and training they need to create resumes, develop interview and communication skills, and effectively use email to secure meaningful employment.
- transform themselves through personal growth in areas that include character development, parenting, self-discipline, relationships, and dealing with guilt and shame.
After release, participants can continue involvement with Defy Ventures by contacting the organization within seven days of leaving prison or jail. By doing so, they can take advantage of employment resources and further assistance in launching their new lives.
But those just coming out or prison or jail aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of what Defy has to offer. Anyone with previous criminal justice involvement may apply for a free five-month scholarship to participate in the organization’s program, which is dedicated to helping those with various levels of experience and education.
Defy’s post-release employment program offers three tiers of service, depending on the need of the individual:
- Tier One is for those who have education and previous work experience. It is known as guided self-help and provides job leads and referrals to other agencies and a weekly review of the participant’s progress.
- Tier Two offers short-term support with group or one-on-one counseling for those with barriers to employment, whether a low level of education or lack of sufficient work history. They receive job readiness and retention skills training and vocational counseling.
- Tier Three provides long-term support with one-on-one intervention and the services offered in Tier Two, as well as job placement resources.
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