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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Life After Prison: Looking for Work

By Alice Popovici


Dorothy Smith, a job coach at the Center for Employment Opportunities, helps Lorenzo Brooks prepare for a job interview.

Lorenzo Brooks worked as an accountant for the New York City Housing Authority before he was convicted of second-degree murder in 1986 and spent 30 years in prison.

He was released from the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in upstate New York on September 22, and has been meeting regularly ever since with a parole officer who tracks his progress as he settles back into society.


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Make a Year-End Contribution to CEO

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Dear Friend,

This year over 600,000 men and women came home from prison. Too many returned to their communities with little education or work experience and a narrow set of opportunities.

At CEO, we have worked for 20 years to reduce the barriers men and women face after returning from prison, and 2015 was a truly remarkable year for our organization. CEO provided services to thousands of recently released men and women around the country, and our efforts have been nationally recognized – from the White House, to VICE media, to last week’s feature in The Atlantic.


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A New Investment Opportunity: Helping Ex-Convicts

By Alana Semuel

A New York program asks outsiders to fund a promising initiative to reduce recidivism. If it gets results, they get a payout.

In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011, Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff Chris Carroll opens a cell at a formerly closed housing unit at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, in Elk Grove, Calif. that will be reopened to handle the increase of inmates sentenced under the new prison realignment program. The realignment plan, championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is aimed at slashing the state's costs and reducing its prison populations by allowing judges to send non-violent, lower level offenders to county jail for crimes such as property, white collar and drug offenses instead of state prison. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011, Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff Chris Carroll opens a cell at a formerly closed housing unit at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, in Elk Grove, Calif. that will be reopened to handle the increase of inmates sentenced under the new prison realignment program. The realignment plan, championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is aimed at slashing the state’s costs and reducing its prison populations by allowing judges to send non-violent, lower level offenders to county jail for crimes such as property, white collar and drug offenses instead of state prison. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)


Every year, the government spends billions of dollars on programs designed to help America’s neediest citizens. In many cases, whether these programs work is anyone’s guess.


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Valerie Jarrett Visits CEO


Dear Friends,

A very special thing happened at CEO last week.

A small group of CEO participants, program staff and a New York State parole officer sat down with Senior Advisor to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, at our New York City headquarters.

Following President Obama’s compelling remarks in Newark about reforming criminal justice policy, Ms. Jarrett and her team requested a visit to learn from CEO about what works in reentry and to hear directly from those who know best — our participants. More than a chance to showcase CEO’s program in action, this visit was an opportunity to engage in a meaningful dialogue about building connections between people returning home, their communities, and our country’s economy.

Ms. Jarrett remarked,

“The challenge of reentry is not one that any individual alone can tackle. It takes collective effort and strong organizations to ensure that businesses begin hiring, and that men and women returning home have the skills, confidence and opportunity needed to build a path toward self-sufficiency.”




Over the course of the afternoon, Ms. Jarrett heard from participants such as Enrico, who described whole industries where he had explored employment, but despite his extensive work experience and Bachelor’s degree, his conviction has made it tough to gain traction. She also talked with Deaquan, 19 years old and only 13 days out of prison, about navigating the job market with limited experience or credentials. Parole Officer Sam Salters shared that he has made nearly 500 referrals to CEO to help high-risk men and women begin their journey back to the workforce, and that the process of getting prepared for a job is the same shift in mindset needed to turn lives around.
Despite the clear challenges facing men and women returning from prison, Ms. Jarrett left us with several reasons to be hopeful. The business community, she believed, will increasingly see employment service organizations like CEO as key partners in meeting their workforce needs. Government agencies — local, state, and federal — are beginning to fully embrace opportunities to invest in and grow evidence-based work that prevents recidivism and stimulates the economy. And a fairer, more equitable justice system is something that the entire country — including Congress — is rallying around.

We were honored to host Ms. Jarrett and look forward to opportunities​ to work with leaders across the country to continue supporting people returning home to successfully reenter the job market and reengage in their communities.



All the best,

​Sam Schaeffer
CEO, Center for Employment Opportunities


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What I Said to President Obama



Yesterday, I had the honor of participating in President Obama’s announcementat Rutgers University, Newark on the administration’s prisoner reentry agenda. Before the event, I had an opportunity to meet President Obama.

Here is what I said to him: thank you. I thanked him because the success of CEO’s scaling in the last several years was catalyzed by some of his administration’s signature policies. CEO used ARRA (aka “stimulus fund”) to ​meet the needs of thousands of ​people returning to Albany, Buffalo and Rochester, New York. The Social Innovation Fund propelled our growth into Oklahoma and California; and Pay for Success is helping us build a deeper evidence base at our New York City flagship.

I told the President that CEO had taken these investments and built sustainable operations in 11 cities across four states. And I reaffirmed to him that CEO is committed to more than doubling our impact ​by ​doubling the number of people we will serve over the next five years.

The President’s remarks yesterday gave even more reason for optimism that we can break the cycle of incarceration and poverty. He talked about how criminal justice statistics can be frustrating and make you feel like you need to act. He talked about how unique the bi-partisan consensus is on this issue. And when the President announced new federal resources, he acknowledged that we need to make deeper investments to support the 600,000 men and women coming home each year.

Second Chance

CEO is committed to being part of the reentry solution for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who come home from prison every year. The White House issued a “Fact Sheet” yesterday, recognizing CEO’s commitment to continue to scale our work. All of this country’s momentum on criminal justice reform must be met with comprehensive supports when people come home from prison. Let all of us who are working to see changes made to our justice system remember what’s at stake during the sensitive moments of reentry and resolve that everyone returning from prison will have a bridge home.​​


Sam Schaeffer
CEO, Center for Employment Opportunities

Watch President Obama’s Speech on the Re-entry Process of Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

Read White House’s FACT SHEET: President Obama Announces New Actions to Promote Rehabilitation and Reintegration for the Formerly- Incarcerated


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Construction Trade Leaders Advisory Council



On Tuesday September 29, 2015, the Center for Employment Opportunities’ Business Account Management team met with top employers and leaders in the construction industry from prestigious companies including: McKissack and McKissack, Lettire Construction, Artimus, SLG Construction, and Quality Floorshine.  The Council’s purpose is to guide CEO’s industry trainings and workforce development strategies and ensure they are closely aligned with the needs of employers.

McKissack and McKissack hosted the Council meeting and opened by highlighting the importance of identifying opportunities for individuals seeking a second chance, but Aissatou Bey-Grecia, Senior Manager of Workforce Strategies for McKissack, also emphasized how businesses benefit from a diverse and highly skilled workforce.

CEO offers a construction trades training program in partnership with Hostos Community College. The training begins with intensive instruction in construction-related math followed by a 14-week, hands-on skills training at Hostos’ construction trades lab.  The Council reviewed CEO’s training curricula, shared their insight and expertise and discussed the fundamental skills they look for when hiring their workforce.

The construction employers made relevant points highlighting the importance of teaching clients to read blue prints among other abilities needed to maximize advancement opportunities in the field.  One employer Ethan Bloom said: “The curriculum is everything you need, and could use more focus on certain specialties within the trade” referring to the robust quality of CEO’s trainings to prepare people seeking a second chance to be successful in the construction sector.

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CEO Buffalo Hosts Mayor Byron Brown

October 21st 2015, CEO Buffalo had the honor of hosting Mayor Byron Brown’s press conference regarding The City of Buffalo’s Opportunity Pledge. The  Opportunity Pledge encourages businesses, organizations and residents to commit to building a culture of inclusion and equality in Buffalo. The pledge, part of an initiative that is moving Buffalo toward the goal of shared prosperity for all residents, kicked into high gear in July 2015 with the debut of the newly designed logo for the pledge. To date, nearly 3,300 individuals and over 134 organizations have signed the pledge, representing well over 11,976 employees and members.

New York State Director Jeff Conrad spoke on the behalf of CEO praising the Opportunity Pledge and our strong relationship with the City of Buffalo.  Former participant, Reginald Alls, also got the chance to speak about the role CEO played in him finding permanent employment with a locally owned community construction agency.  Reginald is one month out from his 365 milestone and reiterated how he could never turn CEO down for a favor after all the program had done for him.

It was an honor for CEO Buffalo to host Mayor Byron Brown.

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Philadelphia Office Launch


On the evening of Thursday, October 1st, the Greenlight Fund celebrated the launch of the Center for Employment Opportunity’s (CEO) Philadelphia office. Guests heard remarks made by the Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter who stated, “The CEO model has proven successful in cities and states across the country.  We believe that it can and will be a tremendous addition to our efforts of supporting young returning citizens””

Matt Joyce, Executive Director of Greenlight Philadelphia also said: “With CEO, people that come out of the prison system, are engaged immediately in a work opportunity that has real wages, real structure, real feedback groups, and their likelihood of success is much better.”

Sam Schaeffer, CEO’s Chief Executive Officer, and Ceciley Bradford-Jones, CEO’s Philadelphia Director, expressed gratitude for the innovative partnership between the City of Philadelphia, The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Greenlight Fund that made this CEO Philadelphia possible.

Two CEO program participants made inspiring remarks on how CEO has already made an impact in their lives.

Trevon Speed said, “I never imagined that I would be able to come home from prison and be placed in the work field actually making legal income. This was all possible because of CEO.”

Russell McCoy continued, “CEO offers me and many other returning citizens another chance at being successful in the community, decreasing the unemployment rate in the City of Philadelphia, — lowering the return rate for men and women on probation and parole by keeping us working, busy and doing something productive with our lives.”

CEO’s evidence-based model will continue to make an important impact on the lives of individuals coming home from prison by promoting opportunity and providing a path to self-sufficiency for people involved in the justice system in the City of Philadelphia.

Thanks to all of our supporters that made this possible!





Photo Credits 


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VICE & CEO Join Forces For Second Chances

On VICE’s Special Report:  Fixing the System on HBO, VICE founder Shane Smith explored the American prison system with President Barack Obama and former attorney general Eric Holder. VICE is urging people — and business — to get involved and shined a spotlight on CEO as an organization making a difference by offering people with criminal records a second chance.  

Together, VICE and CEO will move beyond conversation to action.  With CEO’s expertise and support, VICE will be reviewing its current hiring policies and practices and identify strategies to open up job opportunities to people with criminal records.  VICE will also be calling on other business leaders to do the same.

Men and women with criminal records have the skills and drive companies like VICE need, and CEO is thrilled that VICE is leading by example to mitigate the stigma of a conviction.

Check out Politico’s news article about the partnership.

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