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Jax Daily Record Friday, Mar. 21, 200812:00 PM EST

Calling all corporations

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by: David Chapman

by David Chapman

Staff Writer

Jobs stop bullets.

That’s the new mantra of Operation New Hope’s Kevin Gay in his quest to find jobs for ex-offenders as part of the organization’s Ready4Work program.

“I truly believe that,” said Gay. “With all the initiatives taking place to stop crime, programs like ours are making a difference.”

Ready4Work is a re-entry workforce development program that helps secure jobs for ex-offenders and keep them from becoming part of a downward cycle of crime. The organization does this by keeping participants on track through a one-year life coaching program, case-management and random drug testing while also completing a three-week career development program.

Since its creation in 2000, Gay said the program has assisted over 1,100 ex-offenders secure jobs, with the current number of program participants at 160.

Though Gay said the program has been a success, he wants to do more. He is seeking feedback from the corporate and business community through an online survey that inquires what issues and barriers his candidates must overcome in order to become more employable.

“I want to know how we can do a better job of engaging the corporate business community,” he said. “We have plenty of good, hard-working white and blue collar candidates and we want to know what it will take to give them a chance.”

Gay said that quelling the doubts from employers is a battle itself. However, Ready4Work has an extensive screening and training process that candidates must go through before becoming a part of the program. It’s that human resources aspect that can be vital to cost-crunching small and medium sized businesses that helps candidates and employers succeed.

“To us, the employer is just as much of a customer as the participant,” he said. “I come from the corporate world and I know what their needs are... I want to help answer the question of ‘Do I want to take the risk?’”

The feedback-based, six-question survey — found at www.ready4work.com — will be beneficial in helping Gay and Ready4Work understand what is necessary to expand.

Gay wants to help break the stigma of companies being ostracized for hiring ex-offenders. Even some now who do hire his candidates decline to be identified.

One such company, a Downtown law firm, hired and retained an employee for two years, said Gay. A local hospital has also tapped into the program’s potential. So have countless other businesses, large and small, said Gay. But he wants companies to not be apprehensive about giving his potential employees a second chance.

“This country and many of the greatest stories told originate from someone getting a second chance and succeeding,” he said. “We want to know what it takes to make it happen.”

For more information on Operation New Hope and Ready4Work, call Operation New Hope at 425-6001.

Survey says....

The following are the questions Gay is asking local prospective employers and business partners to answer through Ready4Work’s on-line survey. The feedback, he said, is important in helping gauge what needs to be done to address concerns about hiring ex-offenders. Go to www.ready4work.com to fill out the survey.

• What characteristics must an ex-offender have in order to be considered a qualified candidate for a job you need to fill?

• How old must a conviction be for an employer to consider hiring an ex-offender?

• What offenses would you consider unacceptable when considering someone for employment with your company?

• Would you consider hiring an ex-offender to be a high-risk decision?

• Would you hire a federally bonded ex-offender?

• Additional comments and suggestions for the Ready4Work program.

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