On an early Thursday morning in November, eight sleepy men met at the Goodwill of Central Iowa Headquarters for CEiR (Creating Excellence in Re-entry) orientation. Some were outgoing and excited to change their lives. Others were more reserved and full of nervous energy. Each one of them had their own reason for joining the program:
- Gaining strength to not run away from their problems.
- Finding a better way of communicating with others.
- Learning how to be there for their family.
They were preparing to embark on a journey through CEiR, a collaborative program developed by Goodwill of Central Iowa, St. Vincent De Paul, the Evelyn K. Davis Center and the Fifth Judicial District. The program provides training and mentorship to men who are re-entering society from incarceration with the goal of increasing work readiness and decreasing recidivism, the tendency of convicted criminals to reoffend.
Community Outreach Specialist and CEiR architect Justin Bogers sat through the orientation eager to move these men forward in their lives. Still, he was aware of the struggles they would face.
“These gentlemen were ready to jump into programming but remained skeptical of the collaboration’s plans for support and our outreach abilities,” Bogers recalled.
Embracing the Program
It took time, but eventually they trusted those trying to help them and embraced the program. A lot of that buy-in came from the efforts of Career Specialist Ernest Phillips. He worked with them to build and improve crucial life skills. Their respect for Ernest was evident.
“He taught us a lot of good values and he put his all into it,” shared Terrence, one of the class members. “He’s willing to stretch his neck out for you.”
“I try to help them see they are not who they think they are and help them see who they really are,” said Ernest. “I teach them soft skills and emotional intelligence to overcome their barriers and past behaviors. They learn the hard skills and how to get back into employment shape from Goodwill’s programs. It’s a true work-readiness program.”
While at Goodwill of Central Iowa, the cohorts had a choice to go through the Food Service Skills Training or the Warehouse, Packaging and Logistics Training program. Many of the program participants were amazed at the amount of trust they received from their skills trainers, Joe Cross and John Hasstedt.
“It was amazing,” said Zach, “Joe gave me a lot of freedom in the kitchen to express my tastes.”
“John trusted us to have the right judgement and make the right decisions,” added Terrence. “That meant a lot.”
In these programs, they gained employment stamina and relevant skills that they could market to potential employers. Several also earned industry-recognized certifications that will help them in future employment.
Greater than the Sum of its Parts
Before CEiR’s creation, each partner organization was working to help the re-entry population through individual efforts. What they were doing was positive, but without unity and a lack of daily consistency, they lacked effectiveness. The organizations’ combined specialties created a comprehensive and truly remarkable program.
St. Vincent de Paul provides training on healthy relationships, financial management and tips to navigate social services.
The Evelyn K. Davis Center runs participants through a fatherhood program, mentor them, teach financial and digital literacy and provide the men with suits for their graduation.
The Fifth Judicial District is the glue that holds everyone together. They supervise participants as they transition back into the community and facilitate program enrollment and programming incentives.
Forming a Bond
Over the course of the program, the participants formed a brotherhood. One that is honest and supportive.
“I loved getting closer to the people I came here with. They’re like brothers to me. I can really look out for them if they need help,” recalled Josh.
One example of this came in the last week of their training. One of the participants was falling into old habits. When confronted about the situation, he became defensive. Ernest had him bring it up to the other participants in a meeting. They spent a full hour and a half discussing the situation. The participant asked for advice from everyone in the group. Because they had that bond, he was able to take their advice and act on it for the better.
Acting on Their Lessons
On graduation day, those that completed the program were beaming. Forty of their biggest supporters attended the ceremony to celebrate their success. These were their friends, family and mentors reiterating their readiness to help them in the next step.
“I learned about emotional intelligence, how to present myself, what employers are looking for in employees and accountability,” said Freddy. “There’s a lot of good people in Goodwill that can help you.”
“This experience has meant everything to me,” explained Josh. “It brought a lot of opportunities to me that I didn’t think I could get. It opened my eyes that just because of my background, that doesn’t mean anything. As long as I keep moving forward and stop focusing on the past, the present is all I have.”
What’s next for them? They’ve all had job interviews and several of them have multiple companies vying for their talents. These men are full of hope and are ready to seize success with their new lease on life.
When you donate and shop at Goodwill of Central Iowa, you make successes like these possible. In fact, 85 cents of every dollar earned in our retail stores and through shopgoodwill.com goes to support our mission, improving the quality of life for all individuals, providing skills training and helping people find jobs. Find the location closest to you.