REDF has helped more than 1000 people get jobs in 2014 through our great portfolio of social enterprises. To celebrate, we wanted to look at some of the stories behind the numbers. Here’s Jerry’s story.
Jerry knows how to work hard. In high school in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he was born and raised, he cleaned silos at a feed plant, and later was a packer at a warehouse. When he graduated, he moved to the Seattle-Tacoma area, where he worked as an orderly at a nursing home as well as at a night job doing janitorial work at a golf resort. When he came to Oakland, California, he parked cars and trimmed trees.
“I’ve never had a problem holding a job,” he says. “I’ve been working all my life. I always show up on time, do my work, and get paid. I like to stay busy.”
But Jerry had a drinking problem and in 1981, when he was 29 years old, he got in trouble with the law. He was incarcerated for 28 years. When he was released from prison, he faced joblessness for the first time in his life.
He went to school while he was incarcerated and attended self-help classes that eased his transition back into society. With the help of his parole officer he contacted Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), which provided another stepping stone toward independence. Jerry is grateful for the structure that kept him moving in the right direction. “They really did a great job helping me stay focused on what I wanted to do,” he says. “You need to be in a program to keep your sanity, to be around the right kind of people who are trying to help you better yourself. They really changed my life.”
After completing CEO’s job readiness workshop, Jerry joined a crew that worked on highway maintenance. “That was a great start,” he said. “It kept us busy, working every day.”
From there he moved up to a part time job at Adhesives Products, Inc., where he works on an assembly line. Through CEO’s Rapid Rewards retention program, Jerry receives a bonus for every month on the job and he has now been employed for over a year. “It’s a good job, a good place,” Jerry says. “I like my coworkers. I do the best job I can do every day.”
Jerry’s goal is to find full-time employment. “I want to work 40 hours a week,’ he says. “I want to advance, stay focused, get better, and do things I never knew I was able to do.” CEO is helping him with the job search, as well as providing support to keep him employed until he finds the right job. “Keep striving, and you’ll get a better life,” Jerry says. “When you have good people working for you, things are going to happen.”
Jerry no longer smokes, drinks, or uses drugs. He has a girlfriend who, by his own account, keeps him in line. Together they take trips, go to movies and plays, and explore the Bay Area on weekends—things that Jerry has never done before. He believes that people can change for the better, and points to himself as a prime example. He is also keenly aware of how easy it is to slip up, and to fall back into old, destructive patterns.
“It’s so easy for you to get caught up in something you don’t understand and that will set you so far back you’ll forget yourself,” he says. “You’ll lose yourself if you don’t have the strength to go through it. That’s where the growth comes in. You have to realize who you are, what you stand for, and what you believe in. You can’t let someone else pull you in the wrong direction. You have to remember what you want, what you believe in, and what will make your life change.”
Jerry says that his life right now is good. When he finds full-time employment, it will be even better. His plans for the future include buying a home, continuing to be self-sufficient, and helping others who are also willing to change. “I really appreciate CEO,” he says. “This program gave me a second chance. They didn’t give up on me, and I didn’t give up on myself. I looked within myself and saw that I could change, that I could do it.”