Grantee Helps Ex-Offenders Build New Lives
As hard as prison was, life outside continued to get worse for Anthony. In fact, he was out of prison for three years when he hit rock bottom, a dramatic juxtaposition to the present, which he describes as “the best six months of his life.” At the bottom he found himself repeating the same patterns that landed him in prison. He was unable to manage his anger in a healthy way and was close to acting out in his frustration.
But Anthony experienced a vision of everything he hated about prison—he says God gave him a sign—and he knew what to do. Ask for help.
Help came to Anthony in the form of St. Leonard’s Ministries (Chicago, Ill.), where he enrolled in the residential program, which provides interim housing and support services. When he learned about the Advanced Construction Skills Training Program for Ex-Offenders at the Barlow Education and Employment Center at St. Leonard’s, he signed up immediately.
In 2018, We Raise Foundation awarded a two-year GrantsPlus Grant to support the program, which addresses one of the most difficult barriers ex-offenders face when reentering the community: the ability to secure living wage employment. The program, which is temporarily paused because of COVID-19, teaches high-level trade skills and provides project management experience to help participants obtain pre-union/union apprenticeships that can lead to union employment.
“St. Leonard’s was the best thing that happened to me,” Anthony says. “I see a therapist once a week, I attend anger management, and I belong to a group where I can express my feelings. I took advantage of everything they had to offer.”
The advanced construction skills training program is an 18-week training program: theory and practice in the first eight weeks (tools and techniques in carpentry, plumbing and electrical), and 10 weeks of hands-on experience where they build a “tiny house.” Because St. Leonard’s advanced construction skills program is a signatory pre-apprenticeship program of the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, St. Leonard’s graduates may enter the carpenters’ apprenticeship with a reference letter from their instructor (instead of trying to find a union contractor or union Local to sponsor them).
Pete Baker, who recently retired as director of the advanced construction skills training program, calls Anthony one of his model students. “Anthony has been very engaged and dedicated throughout the program,” he says. “Soon he’ll be ready to apply for his apprenticeship.”
Charmaine is another model student, according to Baker. Struggling to develop a successful career after incarceration, she came to St. Leonard’s during a career event open to the community. After learning about the program and seeing the potential for a career—and the possibility of thriving, not just surviving—she signed up.
“Charmaine was a great student, very ambitious, and so thirsty for knowledge,” Baker says. “It didn’t surprise me at all that she finished the construction skills training program and was accepted by the union apprenticeship program.”
Anthony is poised to take his next steps as well. “This has been the best six months of my life,” he said earlier this spring. “The people here give you a sense of hope—I could not be more grateful to them for accepting me into this program.”
Baker appreciates the support of We Raise donors in making the program possible for his students. “I don’t know if we’d have made it this far without your help,” he says. “Thank you for everything you do for us.”
Your generosity and support is key to helping We Raise partner with organizations working to address the issues at the intersection of poverty, violence, and inequality. And because of you, St. Leonard’s is helping ex-offenders build new, thriving lives. Thank you!