Phoenix Member Earl celebrates employment

Phoenix Member Earl celebrates employment

The Phoenix Program was developed in 2007 as a way to curb the violence found in the urban core of Cincinnati while addressing the cycle of generational poverty at the root of the issue. The program is tailored to individuals at high risk for involvement in group violence, offering an alternative to a life of crime and helping them advance to a life of economic self-sufficiency through legal employment. The goal is to empower individuals to establish new, positive patterns of behavior that lead them away from a life of criminal activity and toward a bright future. We chose the name Phoenix for this program because, just as the mythical bird rises from the ashes to begin a new life, Members can also rise from their lives of self-destruction to begin a new life.

The Phoenix Difference

  • Highly specialized staff with experience in recruiting, mentoring, and counseling men and women living in high-risk environments; a deep and personal understanding of “the life.”
  • Staff willing to commit to nearly 24/7, on-call involvement in the program. Calls come in around the clock. Staff need to respond to homicides, help families in need, and build relationships – all of which demand accessibility at all hours.
  • Offers genuine care and support. The people who come to the Phoenix Program often lack trust and stable role models in their lives, but they receive both when they walk through our doors. We provide a fresh start and a place where they are no longer defined by their past.
  • Members who are willing to participate in their own rescue. Participation in the Phoenix program isn’t forced or passive, and it’s never an easy decision. It’s a commitment to turn away from the people and situations that frequently lead to destructive behavior. This can mean separating from friends and even family members connected to group violence.
  • A support group for Members to connect and establish a supportive and encouraging community.
  • Strong community partners including law enforcement, parole officers, and other community resources that supplement our services and aid in recruitment. We also have relationships with food pantries, funeral homes, transportation companies, and other providers of assistance to help the families of homicide victims.
  • Employers who understand. Phoenix Members often have extensive criminal backgrounds. We have developed relationships with employers who are willing to hire those with a criminal record.

The majority of individuals that become a part of the Phoenix Program suffer from generational poverty. This poverty is cyclical by nature and continually encourages unethical behaviors. With a central focus on the most impoverished areas throughout the city, the Phoenix Program is finding high risk men and women and offering them opportunities to become productive citizens and inspiring them to be life-affirming role models for their children – breaking the cycle of poverty.

A recent study by University of Cincinnati Economics Center found that being a Cincinnati Works Member reduced the probability of felony indictment by almost 50 percent.

Taking Advantage of a Second Chance

After spending 21 years in prison in the prime of his life, Rayshun Holt returned to a familiar neighborhood with familiar challenges in a rapidly changing city. From professional sports stadiums to high-profile parks, downtown Cincinnati got a makeover while Holt was behind bars. “It was like being in a foreign territory,” he said.

“Just catching a bus was a struggle. Half the time I got on a bus, I didn’t know where I was going. Thank God for GPS.”

Holt experienced a makeover of his own during his prison sentence. And just as he needed help navigating the re-made landmarks in his hometown, Holt needed help from Cincinnati Works and a team of other supporters to make the most of his second chance.

Two years later, he has a stable job in a leadership position at a thriving local company, and he mentors folks who face the same challenges today that he faced as a troubled teen.

“Rayshun’s dogged persistence, his patience with the journey and his openness to helping hands along the way – from Cincinnati Works and others – has changed his trajectory,” Cincinnati Works President & CEO Peggy Zink said.

Holt is one of more than 100 Cincinnati Works Members who earned jobs in 2017 that pay at least double the Federal poverty level, meaning those 100+ Members are becoming economically self-sufficient. Another 180 Members earned jobs in 2017 that pay at or above the poverty level, and a total of 445 Members were hired in 2017.

Cincinnati Works announced those results and discussed a strategic shift in priorities during our 2018 Impact Event, held last week. You can click here to read more about our 2017 outcomes and 2018 priorities, and click here to see pictures from the event.

The emotional highlight of the evening was hearing Holt tell his story to a roomful of City officials, local business leaders, and high-profile partners and investors in Cincinnati Works.

“So, does that inspire us?” CW Board Chair Dave Herche asked after Holt’s speech. “Wow. Wow.”

Holt described his story as “a little different, but in the same light, it’s typical” of young people in poverty. He was a good student as a child, but as a teenager he “made a conscious decision to start living a life of crime.” At age 15, he shot and killed a 14-year-old friend. He was tried as an adult, convicted of murder and spent 21 years in prison.

About halfway through his sentence, he said, he rededicated himself to education and earned some college credits. “I began to find myself again,” he said. When the parole board approved his release, Holt expected to find a good job and settle into a comfortable life, based on those college credits and the parole board’s stamp of approval.

“I had a plan,” he said. “Or so I thought.”

He struggled to find an employer willing to look past his criminal record. Eventually, a friend referred him to Mitch Morris and Cincinnati Works’ Phoenix Program, which aims to curb gun violence by connecting neighbors to jobs and other valuable services. Holt enthusiastically took advantage of those resources and began volunteering with Cincinnati Works, helping connect other folks with Morris and the Phoenix Program.

Through Cincinnati Works, Holt met Rob Daly, a local business leader who became a mentor and friend.

“All the time, I had been looking for a job, a job, a job,” Holt said. “What I didn’t realize was that I probably should have been trying to find my way into a career, career, career. Through (Daly’s) guidance and his friendship, I was able to start networking. That eventually led me to my family at Nehemiah.”

Holt was hired as a supervisor at Nehemiah Manufacturing, a growing local company with a history of hiring employees with criminal records. His second chance has begun. He is helping the company through its move to a new, larger facility, and he is in a position to mentor co-workers the same way Morris and Daly have mentored him.

“It’s truly a blessing,” Holt said.

As his career takes shape, violence and poverty remain a concern in his old neighborhood and much of Cincinnati; Holt said his mother still regularly hears gunshots. Now, though, Holt makes a conscious decision every day to lift others out of danger, rather than immerse himself in it.

“The most important thing about this story is that the story isn’t finished yet,” he said. “The work has already begun and we have a whole room full of people here who are working to make sure it gets done.”

Cincinnati Works with Lincoln Ware

We’ve got celebrities among us at Cincinnati Works! Our CEO Peggy Zink and Phoenix Program Mentor Mitch Morris were live in living color this Sunday on STAR64 WSTR! They starred on the weekly segment of Cincinnati Issues with Lincoln Ware.

Want to learn more about Cincinnati Works? Click here to watch Peggy & Mitch’s moment in the spotlight!

Breaking the Cycle

Maria working with a CW Member in the job search area

I began my journey with Cincinnati Works September of 2016. Hanif was released from prison that same month. Hanif had been in prison longer than I have been alive. I met him as a quiet old man who had absolutely no idea how to work electronics. He insisted on pressing random buttons on his small phone, believing that that would eventually show him what he needed to see. Despite being away from all of this new technology for 30 years, he learned quickly. He was eager to learn and to get himself a job. It wasn’t long before he could log into his email all by himself. He did this almost every day for a month after graduating JumpStart.

You learn a lot about someone helping them out for a month. I noted Hanif had an almost serene demeanor. He did not seem to know the word worry. I learned that Hanif knew a little Arabic, because he would write words that I knew in the margins of his job search log. Things like “Insha’Allah” (If it is God’s will) showed me his hopefulness. I learned that Hanif is a veteran of the Vietnam War, the very same war my father was in. To say the least, Hanif was a great Member at Cincinnati Works.

Some short time before August 1973 Hanif met his father for the first time. He went to his home, knocked on the door, and was promptly spoken to through the screen door. Hanif’s father would not let his son in. He described it saying “It was like I was a dog.” August 1973 was his first felony, a robbery charge. Maybe there were other factors, but to him that was the event that set it all off. He said it all went downhill from there.

Hanif learned about God while in prison. He got certifications in HVAC, electrician work, janitorial services, and floor tech. Although we don’t know when his attitude changed, we know that it did. At some point, Hanif recognized his value and began to act upon it. A man who knows his own value knows the value of education in turn. He is worth more than what this world and our society may have told him he is. Hanif has been objectified, dehumanized and a victim of the generational cycle that leaves black men fatherless. More than any of that, Hanif has pulled himself up by the bootstraps. Hanif is not his father, nor is he the man before his father fighting for his own freedom, he is his own man.

Becoming part of our Phoenix Program here at Cincinnati Works, Hanif has broken the chain that could have led on and on for generations. Although he has made mistakes in his past, he has pushed to overcome them. He went through our JumpStart class, learning valuable skills to get and maintain a good job. He has learned money management, how to use a phone, and how to use a computer. He has gained a support system. Hanif earned employment with a manufacturing company, and recently went to get his driver’s license as well. I can tell you working here, because there are so many successes, I got very tired of ringing a cowbell every time someone got a job. But when Hanif got a job, I skipped my meeting that morning to come to Cincinnati Works and ring that bell for him.

The difference may be that I took the time to learn his story, and my joy for him was astounding. But now you know his story too, and you can ring your bell for any Member that shows the incredible things one person can do.

Maria Todd

We take poverty personally at Cincinnati Works. After more than 20 years in the fight, we know well its devastating effects on individuals, families, and the community as a whole. We also know that with the right resources and one-on-one coaching individuals can pull themselves and their families out of poverty. Everyday we witness how gainful employment and personal stability can restore the lives of adults and create tremendous opportunity for their children. 

In 2017, we will continue to share this firsthand perspective on poverty from our many and varied constituents including employer partners, board, staff, investors, and Members. Please continue to check our blog, social media pages (linked in top right corner), and newsletters to hear more from those on the front-line of poverty elimination at Cincinnati Works.

2015 Annual Report

annualreportcoverWe’re thrilled to announce that our 2015 Annual Report is now available to view and download online! 

Cincinnati Works does not accomplish its mission alone. Only through our strong relationships with our many partners are we able to successfully combat poverty in Cincinnati. Along with your support, this network of partners has enabled us to assist over 5,800 people in successfully finding and maintaining employment over the last 20 years.

In this year’s annual report, we highlight four of our closest partnerships. These partnerships have impacted countless lives by breaking links in the chain of generational poverty, and we have chosen the stories of several inspiring Members to illustrate how Cincinnati Works … Together!

Cincinnati Works assisted nearly 500 individuals in poverty to find and maintain employment in 2015. Generous support from our funders enabled us to expand our programs and reach more Cincinnatians wanting to work their way out of poverty. We …
  • Expanded our Phoenix Program to address the growing levels of gun violence in the community.
  • Increased recruiting and expanded capacity to serve more job seekers – almost 100 more people employed in 2015!
  • Redesigned the Advancement Program to better assist the working poor in reaching career goals and, ultimately, earning a living wage.
In 2016, our 20th anniversary year, we are continuing our focus on growth and expansion in order to impact more people. We will expand to new low-income neighborhoods, including a satellite office in Roselawn at the Summit Center. And we will launch new programs, including the Navigator Program to reach a younger, high-need population of at-risk teens.

Cincinnati Works has developed and honed an efficient and successful model in the fight against poverty, but we need even more resources to make our services available to even more people. Thank you for your loyal support of Cincinnati Works as we continue to work together to eliminate poverty.

Click here to read the full report