Group Hires Formerly Incarcerated To Rebuild Oklahoma After 2013 Tornadoes


Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. Each year, the state releases roughly 8,000 people from prison, and many of them are looking for work. One organization now hires ex-offenders to help rebuild and restore tornado-struck towns.

Reuben Ramirez cuts wood for trusses at the Habitat for Humanity offices in Oklahoma City. Kate Carlton Greer Oklahoma Tornado Project

When Reuben Ramirez was released from prison three months ago, it was hard for him to adjust. Ramirez spent a total of seven years behind bars, so getting used to the outside world wasn’t always easy.

“It’s been somewhat overwhelming at times just for the simple fact that I’m learning to adapt out here,” Ramirez said.

He knew he needed establish himself as a loyal, hardworking man instead of just an ex-convict. So two months ago, he started working for a non-profit called the Center for Employment Opportunities, or CEO. It’s a national program to help people with criminal records get back on their feet after they serve time by providing employment services.

Pat Viklund is the organization’s Oklahoma City director. He says they had planned on expanding beyond the state’s Tulsa office in October or November of last year.

“But when the tornadoes came through in May, we realized that our services could definitely be used to help the city of Moore and the South Oklahoma City community recover from that,” Viklund said.

It was a big task, but it wouldn’t be CEO’s first time assisting cities suffering from severe weather.

“It was something we had done with Hurricane Sandy in New York, so we were experienced at providing disaster relief, and so we opened up two crews in August of 2013.

Participants are split between the City of Moore and Habitat for Humanity. They spend 4 days each week clearing debris, planting trees and building houses for tornado victims. Habitat’s Ann Felton says that has been extremely beneficial.

“For us, it’s been a godsend because we have an extra pair of hands out there, and they have been building trusses for our houses,” she said.

Those trusses save Habitat for Humanity roughly $1,000 per home.

Mike Johnston is a site supervisor for the Center for Employment Opportunities’ Habitat for Humanity program. For him, assisting tornado survivors has left a lasting impact. He remembers one day when he and his crew were helping pick up debris from a church lawn.

“When we were back there cleaning up, the pastor actually came out to thank us. He had tears in his eyes and he said that we were doing what they were supposed to do. One of my participants stepped up and said, ‘No, sir. You did your part. Now let us do ours,’” he said.

Johnston says this kind of work – the kind that involves helping other people who have lost everything – impacts the CEO participants in a way few other things do.

“There is a connection there. These guys are having to rebuild their lives, and their helping other people rebuild theirs,” Johnston said.

That’s something Reuben Ramirez, the man just released from prison, completely understands. It’s why he enjoys working on the Habitat for Humanity crew.

“It’s something that I definitely look forward to, helping others that don’t have nowhere else to go, because I know the feeling to not have anything.”

There’s a kinship there, he says. And Ramirez knows that one day, his life will return to normal, just like the lives he has helped rebuild along the way.

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Program to provide work for parolees

Shawnee News Star





By Lindsey Allen 
Posted Jun. 19, 2014 @ 8:00 am

The City of Shawnee, beginning in July, will utilize parolees to compensate for a staffing shortage in the parks department.

The $175,000 agreement with the Center for Employment Opportunities is set to provide the city a supervisor and six crew workers, five days a week. City Manager Brian McDougal noted the city’s only real requirement is to supplement work.

“This is basically an organization that comes in, takes care of all of the human resources, workers’ compensation and majority of the equipment that they’ll use out there in the field,” McDougal said.

He explained the program aims to make people productive members of society.

“For the most part, these guys are just looking for a paycheck so they can get back on their feet, and that’s what this program is designed to do,” McDougal said. “Also, it has the added benefit of helping beautify our city.”

The organization primarily focuses on parolees ages 18 to 25 and does not work with sex offenders. Commissioner Pam Stephens described the difficulty this group has finding employment and spoke to safety concerns.

“People are going to say, ‘Oh no, you don’t want parolees in your neighborhood, out there doing stuff,’” she said. “Well they’re there anyway, so why not be employed? Why shouldn’t we take advantage and make our community better and more beautiful?”

Stephens said the labor is a good thing, so long as the city manages it well and assures that citizens are provided a service.

“I think it’s a great program,” she said. “I’m really excited to see what they do in our community.”


Read more:




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More Lifers Released From Prison in California




Jeremy Raff/KQED
At 17, James Thomas killed someone during a robbery. After 30 years in prison and being denied parole 14 times, Thomas was released 10 months ago.

In the past three years, state prisons have been releasing an increasing number of those sentenced to life behind bars. Governor Jerry Brown has approved about 80 percent of the parole board’s recommendations for release, angering victims rights groups. What does this change mean for lifers who suddenly find themselves having to adapt to life outside prison walls? And for crime victims?

Host: Scott Shafer


  • Bill Heiser, California director of the Center for Employment Opportunities, which recently got a contract with CalTrans to employ felons
  • Christine Ward, executive director of Crime Victims Action Alliance
  • David Hillary, former lifer and counselor at Options Recovery Services
  • Robert Weisberg, professor of law at Stanford and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center
  • Tom Gorham, program director for Options Recovery Services, a Berkeley-based addiction recovery program that employs former felons

See more:

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Big Grants Snared In Google Impact Challenge

The NonProfit Times
June 5, 2014

The votes are in, all 191,000-plus of them: Google will give four San Francisco Bay area nonprofits, the winners of the search giant’s fourth Impact Challenge, grants of $500,000 each. Six more nonprofits will each get $250,000 grants, and 15 will receive $100,000 each.

Voters chose Hack the Hood, Center for Employment Opportunities, The Health Trust and Bring Me A Book out of a total pool of more than 1,000 proposals. Between May 22 and June 2, 191,504 people casted votes for the 10 finalists. Six community advisers, including Director Jacqueline Fuller and former major league pitcher Barry Zito (most recently of the San Francisco Giants), chose the top 25 proposals based on community impact, ingenuity, scalability and feasibility, according to a Google spokesperson.

The Bay Area challenge is the fourth since the program began in the United Kingdom last year. It then expanded to India and Brazil, and will next return to the U.K this summer. Google has granted $16.5 million through Impact Challenges.

“The aim of the Challenge was to search for the most innovative ideas for making Bay Area communities an even better place to live,” according to a release from The Health Trust, based in San Jose, Calif. “The Health Trust was chosen as a finalist for our inventive approaches to make affordable, quality, nutritious food accessible in low-income neighborhoods.”

The Health Trust will use its grant to expand healthy food distribution to low-income areas. It plans to distribute 50,000 pounds of food to 10,000 people over the next two years through its Good. To Go. campaign. Hack the Hood of Oakland, Calif., will expand its summer camp training program for high school students over two years. It will offer the program year-round instead of six weeks, and will expand access to the program from 20 students to 5,000.

Digital literacy and e-books are the Mountain Lakes, Calif.-based Bring Me A Book’s focus for its grant. The organization will expand its Digital4Literacy program to distribute tablets packed with e-books and learning apps to 432 preschoolers over three years.

“This Google challenge will help bring the innovative edge into the preschool sector and help us think about how we use media to support preschoolers and their families in having better access to books,” said executive director Mialisa Bonta. “We’re really excited about it and I think it’s a game changer for Bring Me A Book and for digital literacy. Our total operations budget hovers in the realm of $1 million so a grant of this size is definitely transformational. I would call it a tipping point.”

The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), which provides transitional and full-time jobs for the recently incarcerated, will expand into the city of San Jose and Santa Clara County while implementing new technology aimed at increasing the efficiency of the work crews and its own processes over two years, said California director Bill Heiser. CEO is headquartered in New York City and based locally in Oakland, Calif.

The technology platform will be “wholly new, and we’re really excited about it,” said Heiser. “It’s got the possibility to be a new frontier for us in terms of how we integrate the behavioral lessons we’re trying to achieve as well as provide greater feedback while (workers are) on the crews. It will also help us improve our efficiencies.”

In addition to the grants, all 25 grantees will receive one year of technical support from Google and one year of support from Impact Hub SF, a shared workspace and nonprofit community. Bonta and Heiser said grant details and a distribution timeline have not been worked out yet, and a Google spokesperson said the timelines depend on the nature of the project, the community and the organization.

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Google Grants $2-Million to Winners of ‘Impact Challenge’



Four nonprofits active in nutrition, literacy, and job training and placement will collect $500,000 each from Google to expand or implement new projects after coming out on top in online voting for the firm’s Bay Area Impact Challenge contest, technology-news site TechCrunch writes.

About 200,000 votes were cast in the 10 days after Google announced 10 finalistsin the competition, which overall is divvying up $5-million in grants among some two dozen groups chosen by a jury of community leaders and celebrities from more than 1,000 applicants.

The top winners are Hack the Hood, a summer program teaching technical skills to at-risk youths; Health Trust, which operates food carts offering nutritional snacks as an alternative to convenience stores; reading charity Bring Me a Book; and the Center for Employment Opportunities, which helps ex-convicts find employment

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Google’s Bay Area Impact Award winners unveiled


Silicon Valley Journal




Jun 5, 2014, 2:43pm PDT

Digital Producer-

Google Inc. named the nonprofits that won its first Bay Area Impact Challenge, a philanthropic program that channels a total of $5 million to 10 Bay Area nonprofits.

Four of the nonprofits — Hack the Hood, Center for Employment Opportunities, the Health Trust and Bring Me a Book — each will receive $500,000. The six remaining finalists will each receive $250,000, and 15 additional nonprofits will each receive $150,000.

Google received 191,504 votes during the competition.

Read about the winners here.

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Google Impact Challenge Awards $500K Each To Four Bay Area Nonprofits


Posted  by, Google’s nonprofit wing, has announced that four nonprofits participating in its Bay Area Impact Challenge will receive grants for $500,000 later this year. Hack the Hood, The Health Trust, Bring Me A Book, and Center for Employment Opportunities came out on top after a 10-day voting period and 200,000 votes cast.

Last month, selected 25 Bay Area nonprofits from over 1,000 entrants to receive technical support, free co-working space in San Francisco for a year, and grants starting at $100,000. From the 25, it selected the “Bay Area Top 10″ on May 22. For 10 days, the company let anyone vote for their favorite four among the group. Last night, Google revealed its top finalists, who will each receive grants from $500,000. The remainder of the 10 will receive grants for $250,000.

The top-four nonprofits run the gamut from giving at-risk students in the Bay Area technical skills to offering kids healthy, affordable snack options on their walks to and from school:

Hack the Hood – Hack the Hood is a six-week summer program that teaches at-risk students technical skills and puts them to work for local businesses who can’t afford to hire technical employees full-time. The students receive $1,000 for their participation. With Google’s grant, they plan to expand the program from 20 to 100 students and let the nonprofit offer the program year round.

Health Trust – Among its efforts to enable healthier living, Health Trust operates food carts in SF that are strategically placed to let kids pick up healthy fruits and vegetables on their way home from school instead of stopping by a 7-Eleven and picking up a snack. With studies showing that nearly one-fourth of kids is malnourished, Health Trust’s goal is to double the number of youth it reaches through its cart program by increasing the number of carts and strategically placing them on common routes between schools and residential neighborhoods.

Bring Me A Book - One of the biggest keys to improving life-long academic success is instilling a love of reading at a young age. Bring Me A Book plans to use the grant from Google to provide libraries in the Bay Area with high-quality children’s books and read-aloud workshops for disadvantaged children.

Center for Employment Opportunities - CEO helps those who have been incarcerated break from the vicious cycle of the penal system and unemployment by providing “transitional employment” and job placement. With the grant from Google, the nonprofit plans to expand its employment program to 300 employees in Oakland and 200 in San Jose over the next two years, as well as place another 280 into paid jobs.

Google Impact Challenge

Left to right: Jacquelline Fuller, Reverend Cecil Williams, and CEO Director of California Bill Heiser

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Meet the Bay Area Impact Challenge winners

Posted: Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Ten days ago, voting opened for Google’s first Bay Area Impact Challenge, and now the tally is in. On the ballot? Ten amazing nonprofit proposals to make a difference in our community.
Between May 22 and June 2, nearly 200,000 votes poured in (191,504 to be exact)—adjusted for population, that makes it the highest voter turnout we’ve had in a Challenge to date. Now we’re unveiling the winners. Each will receive $500,000 in funding and support from Google:

  • Hack the Hood will address digital equity by training low-income youth to build websites for local small businesses, actively supporting them to launch their own tech careers.
  • Center for Employment Opportunities will develop a tech platform to prepare formerly incarcerated people for employment in a digital world.
  • The Health Trust will create new distribution channels for people to get affordable produce, expanding options for street vendors, corner stores, and farmers’ markets for underserved areas.
  • Bring me a book will give kids access to digital books, in multiple languages, while creating a supportive online community for parents and caregivers.

Bay Area Impact Challenge - Badge winner

But everyone wins in this competition: The six remaining finalists will each receive $250,000, and we also gave an additional 15 nonprofits around the Bay Area $100,000 each.

Finally, all 25 Google Impact Challenge nonprofits will receive one year of accelerator support at our first-ever impact lab, a co-working space launched in partnership with Impact Hub SF, a shared workspace for entrepreneurs committed to positive social and environmental change.

Nonprofits will have access to networking events, meeting space, and development workshops in the Impact Hub SF, as well as membership to all U.S. Hub locations. We also plan to host community events for the Bay Area nonprofit community throughout the year—so check out our website or follow us on Google+ to stay in the loop.

Now the work really begins, and we’re excited to continue to build on our ongoing efforts to give back to the community.



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The Value of Rigorous Evaluation

StanfordSocial Innovation Review




Rigorous evaluation can drive continuous learning and improvement.

By Nancy Roob | Jun. 2, 2014

Although evidence-based funding and policymaking are gaining momentum in philanthropy and government, a study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy suggests that we still have a long way to go. Seventy-one percent of the nonprofit leaders surveyed reported that their funders provided no support for program assessment or evaluation. Unless we invest more resources in our capacity to measure the performance and evaluate the impact of programs, how can funders and nonprofits be confident that they are making a real difference in people’s lives? And how can we expect to improve programs’ performance and increase their impact without building and examining the evidence of what works and what doesn’t?

I understand the reluctance of many fellow funders and practitioners to undertake rigorous evaluation. It can be costly, diverting resources from the direct delivery of desperately needed services. It can be scary—by their very nature, randomized control trials frequently show smaller impacts than less rigorously designed evaluations. Many people worry, “What if the findings suggest that the program I’m supporting or running is not as effective as I believe it is?”

These fears are justifiable, but we at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) believe that a broader perspective on the purposes of evaluation can help allay them. We, along with more and more funders and nonprofits, believe the point of evaluation is not just to earn a “gold star” or pass-fail grade. It is also to learn and improve. From this perspective, evaluation is a dynamic and ongoing process that never ends.

As the architect of EMCF’s approach to evidence building, David Hunter likes to say that performance management takes “performance leadership.” Dr. David Olds exemplifies this. Back in the 1970s, he conceived the home-visitation program for low-income mothers that eventually became Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) and is still using what he learned from evaluating it after all these years. By continually measuring and assessing how well the program works, Dr. Olds and his colleagues help make it work even better. When data revealed that nurses at replication sites spent less time with mothers than in the original trials, for example, NFP developed new observational and training tools to aid both novice and experienced NFP nurses.

Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), another EMCF grantee, exemplifies how evaluation can create opportunities for cutting-edge program development. A randomized control trial found that the center reduced recidivism among people recently released from prison by 16 to 22 percent. This impressive evidence helped the organization expand beyond its base in New York to Oklahoma and California. But the three-year study did not find that CEO’s program made a discernible difference in participants’ long-term employment, compared to a control group of recently incarcerated people who did not enter the program. In other words, CEO had demonstrated its success in helping people stay out of prison but not necessarily in helping them land lasting jobs. So it went back to the drawing board and beefed up the job placement and retention component of its program. Another randomized control trial will determine whether these improvements are making an impact on employment.

What’s more, the performance management and measurement systems that CEO put in place to assess and improve its performance, and the evidence these systems generated, helped it win the world’s largest social impact bond (SIB) to date: $12 million over five years to expand in New York State. If CEO can reduce recidivism among participants in its program by at least 8 percent and/or increase employment by at least 5 percent, as validated by a randomized control trial, private and institutional investors could realize returns as high as 12 percent annually and taxpayers will save $7.8 million. Though it’s too soon to tell whether innovative funding vehicles such as SIBs will prove successful, they are driven by evaluation.

With our support, most of EMCF’s 21 current grantees are undergoing or about to launch external evaluations. We expect that some of the results will be heartening, while others (to our chagrin) will be mixed or even disappointing. As Mary Kay Gugerty and Dean Karlan write, rigorous evaluations may not be appropriate for all situations or organizations. But when they are, the findings will help nonprofits better understand their programs and improve them to better serve the disadvantaged.


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WATCH OUR VIDEO for Google Impact Challenge – Fresh Start – Bay Area




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