Pilot project helps ex-prisoners find employment

by Josh Dulaney

Most people wouldn’t look forward to a shift in a drainage ditch, with crisp winds whipping into the thick brush and making the work even tougher.

But on a gray Tuesday morning in Edgemere Park, Kevin Fletcher of Oklahoma City set about with a line trimmer and a lopper, content to be far away from a Lexington prison.

“It’s pretty hard being a felon and looking for work,” said Fletcher, 26. “Most people, when they see you’re a felon, they don’t want to give you a chance.”

Fletcher worked in a crew of five people, each of them an ex-prisoner earning their keep and seeking to build resumes under a pilot program funded by Oklahoma City and overseen by the nonprofit Center for Employment Opportunities.


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CEO’s ED, Sam Schaeffer,Testifies Before U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee on SNAP Employment & Training Programs



Phone: 202-360-2853

Filmed and produced by the US Senate Recording Studio. Screenshot captured on September 14 via live web stream of the hearing. Watch the full video here.

WASHINGTON, DC, September 14 — Sam Schaeffer, chief executive officer and executive director of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry today about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) initiative and the benefits it offers formerly incarcerated people. More than 600,000 Americans return home each year from prison, and many will grapple with food insecurity and unemployment. Finding and keeping a job is essential to escaping food insecurity and leading a productive, fulfilling life. In his testimony, Schaeffer offered recommendations for the future of E&T funding, among them that more public-private partnerships and information sharing at the federal and state levels of government will lead to more impactful and cost effective programs.


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Announcing Our 2017-18 AmeriCorps VISTAs


CEO is excited to announce a new partnership with the AmeriCorps VISTA program to build the capacity of four of its offices (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Buffalo) to serve an even greater number of formerly incarcerated people in the coming year. CEO VISTA members will cultivate financial resources, recruit and manage volunteers, develop community partnerships, and provide support for program innovation. CEO is hosting three VISTAs for 2017-18 in Pennsylvania, and a fourth in Western New York. 


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Prisoners and the Job Market: Should employers know about criminal records?


DION got his first paying job at 14—which would be admirable, except that he was selling crack cocaine. He spent much of his early adulthood bouncing between prison and the streets of Yonkers, in New York state. Then, a few months out of one four-year spell behind bars, he discovered Greyston, a 35-year-old bakery. Founded by a Jewish engineer-turned-Buddhist monk, Greyston practices “non-judgment”. To get a job, people need only provide their names and telephone numbers, and turn up on time when a vacancy arises.

Most companies are far more discerning, particularly when it comes to people like Dion. Perhaps half of America’s private-sector employers ask job applicants to declare their criminal records, and two-thirds routinely run checks before taking people on. They see it as necessary due diligence. Unfortunately, checks that individual firms believe to be prudent are collectively bad for the 7m Americans who have spent time in prison and the 70m with a criminal record—numbers that may increase if Jeff Sessions, the hardline attorney-general, pushes through tougher sentencing rules. Keeping convicts away from jobs may also be harming America.


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The Simple Act of REALLY Listening

By Nate Mandel, CEO Program Innovation Associate

Listening is one of the most important skills associated with effective leaders and employees. This simple act builds trust and empathy with clients and often leads to much more effective outcomes. So why is listening one of the most overlooked skill sets in business and nonprofits? My colleagues and I at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a national nonprofit that helps returning citizens develop the necessary skills and confidence to find and retain employment, recognized this was a place for improvement and set out to build a listening culture – one that makes listening a cornerstone of everything we do. This past week we celebrated our success at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) conference in Boston, MA.

In front of a packed audience with standing room only, three CEO graduates, Antoine Ragland, Warren Sanders, and Luis Fonseca, accompanied by CEO staffer Christine Kidd, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) Director of Program Strategy Jehan Velji and  Fay Twersky, Director of the Effective Philanthropy Group and the Hewlett Foundation, shared their experiences at CEO. Antoine, Warren and Luis all provided critical feedback to CEO employees that helped CEO staff better understand client experiences and informed changes we made to improve the client experience for everyone. This feedback loop is part of an organization wide project called Constituent Voice in which CEO systematically seeks feedback from clients through text messages, in person focus groups and anonymous surveys.


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CEO’s Gary Damon Envisions a More Prosperous Buffalo

by Gary Damon, CEO Buffalo’s County Director

In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Byron Brown announced a new partnership with my organization, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), to rehabilitate 62 vacant and abandoned city-owned properties while providing job training to formerly incarcerated Buffalo residents.

CEO is a nonprofit organization that employs formerly incarcerated individuals, provides them with work experience and training, and then helps them find and retain full-time employment. This partnership shows how local government can work with community-based organizations to address mass incarceration and recidivism while providing tangible economic benefits to our community.


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CEO Buffalo Participants Clean Up Government-Owned Housing

Workers from the Center for Employment Opportunities, who are either on parole or probation, clean up a vacant lot on East Ferry Street in a contract with the city, Thursday, March 9, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

By Deidre Williams

The City of Buffalo recently obtained 33 vacant and run-down houses at a foreclosure auction that out-of-town landlords had all but abandoned.

Now, the city is getting ready to fix up the properties so they can be sold.

But instead of assigning city employees to the task, or hiring a construction firm, the city is turning to an organization that employs men and women just released from prison and jail.

If, as expected, the Common Council authorizes the Brown administration’s plan, the city will spend as much as $300,000 over the next two years to clean and fix the vacant houses. Ex-convicts transitioning back to society will do the work. Each participant earns $84.95 daily for 6 1/2 hours of work.

Read the full article at >

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CEO Alum Pens Op-Ed in the SF Chronicle

“A door back into society”

“When I was 15 years old, I was arrested for a gang-related offense. I was tried as an adult, convicted and sent to prison to serve a 15-year-to-life sentence. I went in a child and came out a man when I was a paroled at age 33 — a man who recognized the error of his ways and was committed to starting a new life.” So writes CEO graduate Michael Mendoza in the December 25, 2016 issue of the San Francisco Chroniclein an editorial titled “A door back into society.”

“I celebrated every paycheck.”

Mendoza says CEO has been a critical part of his success after prison. He continues, “Together, my case manager and I celebrated every paycheck. We tailored a plan…I was able to get a job [with] a national furniture chain. After only three months, I was promoted to supervisor and was soon able to rent my own apartment and live independently. Now, I am working toward my bachelor’s degree.”

ANYONE with a recent criminal history…

CEO has an organizational vision: that anyone with a recent criminal history who wants to work has the preparation and support needed to find a job and to stay connected to the labor force. Notably, Mendoza concludes his editorial with a similar sentiment: “I went from a life sentence to a life with a future, and that’s an opportunity many more people deserve that will benefit all of us.”

Read the full editorial >

Learn more about CEO’s program model >

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VICE and Center for Employment Opportunities Announce Six-Month Apprentice Program to Employ Formerly Incarcerated People at VICE

Launching early 2017, VICE is now accepting applications for six-month apprentice program, employing and training the formerly incarcerated across content development, production, editorial, marketing and more

VICE partners with Center for Employment Opportunities, the country’s leading re-entry program that has helped more than 20,000 people find jobs upon release from prison

VICE Media, the world’s leading youth media brand, today announced the creation of an apprentice program to employ people with criminal records at VICE, the next step in a partnership with the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), the country’s leading nonprofit that provides career opportunities for the formerly incarcerated. VICE and CEO are now accepting applications, and interested participants should email

Beginning in early 2017, the six-month apprentice program will provide formerly incarcerated people who have little to no college or workforce experience with skills across a range of fields, including production, editorial, marketing and other creative jobs, at VICE’s Brooklyn headquarters, paying $15 per hour for 40 hours per week.


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How to Help Former Inmates Thrive

I recently gave a talk at the state prison in San Quentin, Calif. At the event, a former inmate said, “I don’t understand why over the 18-year period of my incarceration, over $900,000 was paid to keep me in prison. But when I was paroled, I was given $200 and told ‘good luck.’ ”

He’s right. For our economy to succeed, we need to equip every American to be effective in the national work force. But the more than 600,000 people who leave prison every year are not getting the support they need. That fails them and fails the economy for all of us.


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