The Ripple Effect of Social Enterprise – Pablo Gaxiola, Re-Entry Programs Manager, Goodwill Silicon Valley

REDF is an investment that works.  Yes, we could show you the charts, graphs, and spreadsheets that underscore the return on investment that social enterprises provide. But when it comes to making an impact on people, it’s the stories that show the power of social enterprise to change not just one life, but many.

We call this, “The Ripple Effect.” Pablo Gaxiola, who walked out of prison in 2014, embodies it. Despite his strong communication skills and work experience he says, “Having felonies caused me to not get jobs. I’d get a job offer, pending the background check, and my heart would drop.”

Then Pablo discovered the New Opportunity Work Program (NOW) at Goodwill Silicon Valley, one of the Social Enterprises REDF has invested in since 2014. When Pablo applied, he found an organization that was “less concerned about my felonies and more concerned about my ability to do the job, and take advantage of the second chance I was being offered.”

Thanks to that investment Pablo has a great job, and that one ripple has become a wave that has changed his family, his community, his career, and potentially the hundreds of people he is now in a position to help.

The Power of the Ripple Effect at Work

At Goodwill, Pablo encountered Shelby Mason, the Director of Re-Entry Programs. Shelby had the ability to see beneath the surface—even when it came to facial tattoos—and recognize the potential within. Every step of the way, Pablo says, “Shelby helped with my resume, my cover letter, and encouragement. She saw I could be impactful to others.”

Today, Pablo has advanced to manage the day-to-day operations of the NOW program that helps Goodwill participants transition from incarceration to gainful employment. With all program participants formerly incarcerated, he finds his prison experience an asset. “My background creates an immediate connection because I can sit down and talk to people who are in the same shoes I was once in,” he says. “I come from the same prison system they’ve come from. I’ve experienced the same lack of trust and lack of willingness to be helped. But I can show them that with a little support and encouragement you can change your life. I’m an example. I represent individuals who are seeking a second chance as well.”

The result ripples through every interaction Pablo has with the people he helps at Goodwill. “Often our folks have no work history. So I talk through some of the skills they developed in prison that are transferable and marketable. Pretty soon they have a full resume in front of them.”

The Power of the Ripple Effect on Family

After 15 years in and out of prison, Pablo has seen the power of the ripple effect on his family. “I’ve transformed from a person my family used to worry about to become a man that can be trusted,” he says. At family occasions, “Whether it is Thanksgiving or Christmas, I’m now the one that is asked to do the prayer. That’s a huge honor in my family and in my culture.”

The barriers his children have built up over the years are now falling. “My 8-year-old daughter asked if we can start planning next year’s birthday party. I no longer have to live in fear of leaving my family again.”

The Power of the Ripple Effect on Community

Pablo’s life was transformed, and social enterprise was the catalyst. In the community, Pablo serves on two county commissions, one designed specifically to address overcrowding in state prisons and the reentry of inmates into their community. Instead of building jails with doors that slam shut, he wants to make sure they also swing open. And when they do, they swing open to opportunity.

“Second chances can make the biggest impact on someone’s life,” he says. ”Giving someone the opportunity and support to be successful can change the world.  But first you have to stop looking at what people have done and start looking at what they can do.”

In meetings with people who held Masters and Doctoral degrees, Pablo was able to add his unique perspective. “In my role as a former inmate, I brought a lot to the table with 15 years of life in that school.” Plans for the new county jail now include a designated reentry floor.

While a reentry program sounds great, Pablo has his sights on something even more ambitious. Instead of reentry, he wants to focus on what he calls, “No entry.” In Pablo’s community he says, “We’re playing defense on a lot of things.” In addition to gangs, and a high crime rate, Pablo points out the systemic barriers to change. “I had no idea that in my community, by the time I’m 18, I’m more likely to go to jail or commit a crime than graduate high school.”

To change those conditions will require people like Pablo, organizations like Goodwill Silicon Valley that provide jobs along with wraparound support services for those striving to create a better future, and investment from REDF that amplify the ripple effect.