PC(USA) support helps people with criminal records find work in Michigan


Self-Development of People is funding program that helps ex-offenders find work in construction           

By Clara Nunez, Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People | For Presbyterian News Service

Members of the Opportunity Knocks project in Lansing, Mich., are learning construction skills to get better job opportunities. Photo courtesy of Opportunity Knocks.

LOUISVILLE — Across the United States, one of the major struggles for people with criminal convictions is finding work. For many employers, having a criminal record ends the conversation with a prospective employee.

After funding a pair of initiatives that helped ex-offenders in Lansing, Michigan, return to the workforce, the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People has funded a program that is helping those people take their work to the next level.

Opportunity Knocks — a project by the NorthWest Initiative’s Advocacy, Resources, Reentry and Outreach program,  composed of ex-offenders advocating for themselves — made a goal of training ex-offenders in the construction field so that they can work their way into better-paying jobs and become journeymen in specific skills. Self-employment is even a possibility with this initiative that provides economic opportunities for members and creates possibilities for people leaving the criminal justice system in the future.

The program was funded with a $15,000 SDOP grant in 2018. Previously, SDOP had provided $20,000 grants in 2011 and ’12 for programs that help encourage the employment of ex-offenders and give them job-skills training.

The program has been successful. Three people in the training program are on course to graduate. Five graduates are now working for construction companies. Two more who are focusing on becoming electricians have been approved to attend college classes, and two employers have said they are interested in hiring them when the college credits are obtained.

“There is a major demand in the construction industry for workers, and this grant has allowed us to put our ex-offender population into this industry,” said Monica Jahner, a program manager and legislative advocate member of the group. “We have taken the opportunity from SDOP and made it a success through hard work from all the owners of this grant. We will take everything we have learned and work to continue to provide the opportunities for our group.”

Participants are working at least 40 hours a week and taking care of their families, staying away from substance abuse and keeping up with their bills. There is increased self-esteem and confidence.

“We have impressed churches, employers, attorneys and colleges where they have offered us different types of collaborative opportunities,” said Jahner, who is also an ex-convict. “We can’t thank SDOP enough for this opportunity and for giving us another chance.”

To apply

Groups interested in being considered for the next funding cycle will need to apply soon. Click here to start the application process and here to watch a video about the application process.


If you want to contribute to the work of SDOP funding programs such as Opportunity Knocks, click here to donate.

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