The myth says, a rose that grows from concrete is admired, not because of its beauty, but because of the incredible odds it overcame in order to blossom.
According to the South Carolina Department of Corrections, thousands of former offenders are released each year. Most of them have little to no job training, no permanent housing, and lack basic resources to remain independent. This scenario creates a higher probability that any number of them may wind up returning to prison rather than sustaining their freedom and legally earning a living wage.
DESA, Inc., and the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) decided two years ago to plant roots in this community struggling to overcome dire circumstances. Their objective was not simply to help them outgrow their misfortune, but to enable them to boldly reemerge.
Introducing the REEMERGE Program
The Reemerge Program, based in Columbia, SC, is funded by the Department of Commerce, MBDA, and administered locally through DESA, Inc. This forward-thinking initiative provides customized training, mentorship, and specialized assistance to lessen the burden placed upon returning citizens.
With entrepreneurship as a key pillar of the program, Reemerge clients are afforded the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to create a viable business of their own. Each student gains access to top tier courses led by certified instructors at Midlands Technical College and many others.
Those who wish to dive into the workforce are encouraged to take a basic computer skills course and to obtain a GED if they failed to complete high school or a certified equivalency program.
“We intend to sow seeds of hope within minority communities where a disproportionate number of returning citizens are often marginalized as a result of having limited options available to uplift themselves,” says Dwight James, Project Manager of the Reemerge Program. “We’re here to change that.”
Ex-Offenders to Entrepreneurs
Being equipped with a skillset to become your own boss is essential for returning citizens. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68% of ex-offenders could return to prison on a technicality such as not having a job or permanent residence. Most individuals find it difficult to obtain a job with a rap sheet and no address. It becomes imperative that these individuals are trained in a profession that can generate sustainable income.
In support of aspiring entrepreneurs, Reemerge provides access to several high demand trades with considerable earning potential in the general workforce and entrepreneurial sectors. Based on evaluation, skillset, and interest, clients may select among career tracks that include HVAC, Welding, and CDL, in addition to customized options.
Reemerge collaborates with Kauffman FastTrac©, seasoned businesspersons and experts to maintain a curriculum that is current and equips the entrepreneurial client with adequate tools and business skills to design and launch a viable enterprise. The FastTrac© approach prioritizes each candidate by reinforcing monthly strategies to strengthen each business idea. Business training is comprised of a blend of virtual and in-person sessions steered by certified facilitators.
Active Reemerge client and former Kauffman student, Charlie, entered prison as a sixteen-year-old kid and was released at the age of forty-one. Charlie had never earned over eight cents an hour while incarcerated. He has publicly credited the Reemerge program for helping to restore his life.
“They set up the job interview, helped with my resume, and gave me the confidence to nail the interview,” said Charlie who now earns $17.00 an hour as a professional welder. This has been his first opportunity to earn a paycheck. “Next to hugging my mother after 25 years of incarceration, this was the next best feeling I’ve ever experienced. This program helped me regain my dignity.”
Reducing Recidivism Together
Without a joint effort to curb recidivism in South Carolina, incarceration and its associated costs will continue to rapidly increase. For this reason, Reemerge has strategically developed unique partnerships within South Carolina’s reentry ecosystem.
Collaborations with Midlands Technical College, SC Works, The Department of Corrections, Kauffman Fasttrac©, local nonprofits, church organizations and probation officials have all greatly contributed to the Reemerge Program’s expansion into several additional counties this year. The ability to address the unique challenges faced by
returning citizens, hinges upon Reemerge remaining consistent with forging alliances with steadfast community influencers. This is key to expanding our reach and delivering solid results.
It takes a Village
Reemerge serves a diverse clientele that includes youthful offenders, those released upon serving long term sentences, and even those detained well into their senior years. These are our family members, our neighbors, and our friends who need added support more than judgement.
You can help! Refer someone to Reemerge who has served their time in prison and could utilize training and coaching to reestablish their identity and rebuild their life. Become an advocate for 2nd Chance employment. And if you are an employer, consider hiring a returning citizen. Contact Reemerge at (803) 722-1774 or visit our website, www.ReemergeSC.com, to register or submit questions.