2 Groups Help Ex-Felons Rebuild Their Lives

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For felons newly released from prison, entering the workforce is filled with challenges.

Two organizations, Home for Good Re-entry Resource Referral Center and Dress to Succeed LLC, are providing tools to help these men and women get on with their lives.

“Home for Good is a one-stop shop of resources for individuals who have been incarcerated and have barriers to moving on with their lives,” says its executive director, Lola Simmons.

A felony conviction can keep newly free person from obtaining a license or employment in several professions. More than 750 licenses are closed to felons in the state of Ohio, Simmons says.

Home for Good tries to deal with that problem by helping individuals apply for a Certificate of Qualifications for Employment (CQE), which can provide an applicant “limited relief” in not having a license and other bars to employment.

“We process the applications for those petitions going to the courts,” Simmons says.

Applicants must be Ohio residents and have been convicted in the state. All post-release supervision must be complete and individuals can have no pending criminal charges.

The certificate allows for consideration of licensure and employment a case by case.

“The same courts who convicted them are the ones who are going to look at this application,” Simmons says.

Home for Good works with Flying High Inc., Mycap and the TRIO program at Eastern Gateway Community College to better address the needs of the felons in their programs.

The organization has also created a network to connect felons with resources, including job training, education, drug and alcohol counseling, housing and transportation.

After visiting a store at Grafton Correctional Institution that provides professional clothing to soon to be paroled prisoners, Simmons brought the idea to Dress to Succeed, a nonprofit dedicated to providing free professional attire.

Dress to Succeed already operated a community store here. Both organizations operate under the umbrella of Action, a faith-based community organization that works to improve the quality of life in Youngstown.

“It was proposed to ODRC [Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction], and they jumped on it for the Ohio State Penitentiary,” Simmons says.

Dress to Succeed provides free professional clothing to men and women recently released from prison at a store inside the Ohio State Penitentiary Campus on the East Side and to the general public at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

“At our Ohio State Prison location, that’s for clothing for men and women that are coming out of prison within six to nine weeks, says Rose Carter, executive director of Dress to Succeed and Action. “We go in and clothe them. …

“We dressed 150 men within three months,” she says.

Inmates are allowed to choose what they want and the clothing is wrapped and ready for them upon their release.

“Instead of coming out in sweats, they come out in shirts and ties,” Carter says.

Dress to Succeed and Community Corrections Association cut the ribbon Monday at a new clothing store at 1507 Market St.

David Stillwagon, CEO of CCA, met Carter and Simmons at Ohio State Prison and immediately became intrigued by the clothing store.

Because CCA operates two halfway houses and a diversion program here, Stillwagon saw the benefit of opening another location outside the prison.

“They’re coming to our program without a job,” Stillwagon says of the parolees, “so they’re working with our vocational specialists doing mock interviews. “We also have a job retention piece.”

While mastering the soft skills needed to get a job, those in CCA programs can now look the part during a job interview.

“This is another tie-in,” Stillwagon says. “So prior to going out and job searching, they can go down to Dress to Succeed and be able to go find a dress shirt or a tie.”

Once a week, CCA vocational specialists take their clients to shop before they schedule job interviews.

Unlike the Ohio State Prison in Grafton, the new store will have clothing for both men and women.

Dress to Succeed will open another store at Trumbull Correctional Institution in May. It plans to open a location at the Toledo Correctional Institution in the near future, Simmons says.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.