The article that follows is from our 2019 Annual Report:
Sowing the Seeds of Success
Holly McBride is a master gardener with an interest in science and multiple certifications on her resume. JBM Packaging may seem an odd place to launch a career in agriculture, but McBride saw opportunity where others might see obstacles:
- JBM has a garden at its facility in Lebanon, and McBride joined the employee committee that tends it.
- As a manufacturer of paper-based products, JBM offers Earth-friendly, biodegradable alternatives to plastic packaging, which appeals to a climate-conscious employee.
- And, perhaps most importantly, JBM is a committed second-chance employer with an infrastructure to support individuals who are returning from prison or addiction treatment. It is fertile ground for a motivated employee.
“I am focused on one thing and one thing only right now. Once I get stable here, I plan to look into my options,” McBride said. “Once I get there, everything will fall into place. I’m sure of it.”
That confidence might not have come so easily during much of 2019, as McBride finished a four-year prison sentence and moved into a halfway house. But she ended the year with a new support team at Cincinnati Works, the job at JBM, and a sense of optimism that her career can bloom anew.
“It has been a long process to get this job, but I’m glad I did it,” she said. “It gave me the resources I need.”
McBride completed the JumpStart job-readiness workshop at Cincinnati Works along with 16 other people, including seven other women from the halfway house where she lived at the time. Her JumpStart class, which graduated November 21, 2019, was unusually large but otherwise typical of the Members who came through Cincinnati Works last year:
- Some flourished, their natural gifts enriched by generous and supportive partners. Cincinnati Works will continue to offer nourishment in new ways as their careers blossom.
- Some wilted, unable or unwilling to establish roots at this time. They will remain Cincinnati Works Members, and they are welcome to re-engage in the future.
- Others have established roots but have not yet seen the fruits of their labor. Cincinnati Works has a staff of professionals to support them. It is what we have done well for more than 23 years.
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Another eight have disengaged from Cincinnati Works, failing to show up for scheduled appointments and declining to answer messages from our staff. One of those eight was referred to another agency in order to address barriers that we are not equipped to handle; the other seven are considered inactive, and they are welcome to return at any time.
“You have to be ready,” said Jamie Beatty, a graduate of the class who is now employed at Nehemiah. “You have to take it seriously. Some people aren’t ready.”
Beatty was not sure she was ready when she arrived at Cincinnati Works on Tuesday, November 19, along with McBride and six other women from Pathways, a halfway house operated by Talbert House. A drug addiction and a prison term left her confidence shattered. “I didn’t expect my life to ever get back to normal,” Beatty said.
She was not alone. Michael Colson also lost years to addiction and prison, and his self-esteem was admittedly low when he came to Cincinnati Works as part of the same JumpStart class.
“They gave me a lot of hope,” he said. “A lot of people told us we are worthy. I never had that before.”
Both Colson and Beatty credited the JumpStart workshop for preparing them for ensuing job interviews. Beatty estimated that she went on “maybe four” job interviews in the years before she became a Cincinnati Works Member; she then experienced three mock interviews during JumpStart, one each day of the workshop.
She interviewed with JBM after graduation but did not get the job, a disappointment that did not drown her. After a chat with her Cincinnati Works coach, Beatty got an interview with Nehemiah and was hired on the spot.
“When I went into the interview (at Nehemiah), I was so comfortable,” she said. “I wasn’t nervous at all, and I am not usually like that. I was more nervous during the mock interviews than I was in the real interview.”
Beatty has been given increasingly more responsibility at Nehemiah and her confidence has grown with each new task. She has since moved from Pathways into a sober-living house operated by a woman who has become her mentor. Although Beatty had a chance to move into a home closer to Nehemiah’s facility in Price Hill – or, perhaps, interview for a job closer to her new home – she chooses to take two buses for an hour-long commute to get to work, because she trusts the support she gets at Nehemiah and at the sober-living home.
“It just helps with how I think,” she said. “I am so comfortable now.”
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Tyren Hughes went to prison with no diploma, no GED and little work experience. He had a chance to pursue the GED or a job during his three-year sentence, and he regrets that he did neither. “I wasted an opportunity,” he said.
Cincinnati Works represents a chance to start over, to prune dead branches and sprout new leaves.
After completing JumpStart, Hughes got a part-time job with a construction company but continued to visit our office to meet with his coach and complete online applications. He later got a full-time job at Zenith Logistics, a Kroger distribution center that hired multiple Cincinnati Works Members in 2019, but he lost it a few weeks later. He returned to Cincinnati Works almost immediately to meet with his coach and staffing specialist.
“I’m trying to be an independent young man,” Hughes said. “I want my own house and car. It’s tough. Right now I’m still staying with my cousin.”
Housing, education and transportation are ongoing challenges for many of our Members. Hughes is one of at least 11 people in his JumpStart class who reported living in temporary or transitional housing when they came to Cincinnati Works. Less than half of the Members we served in 2019 reported owning or having regular access to a vehicle; 51% rely on public transportation.
Getting a job can exacerbate those problems as easily as it solves them. In the same way that a gardener must fertilize and weed a flower bed, Cincinnati Works has committed to removing barriers even after a Member gets a job. In recent years we have invested in programs such as:
- Workforce Connection, which embeds a coach in local businesses to work one-on-one with their frontline employees.
- Financial coaching and access to short-term financial aid, including funds from Project LIFT of the Child Poverty Collaborative.
- Transportation to certain local employers through a shuttle service begun by the Beacon of Hope Business Alliance, a program Cincinnati Works took over in 2019.
Colson utilizes the Beacon of Hope shuttle to get to and from Kutol, and McBride and Amanda Coates take it to and from JBM. “That van is a miracle,” Colson said. It was a key factor in his decision to pursue the job at Kutol.
Because the van helps him get to work on time every day, Colson is able to appreciate the benefits of the job (including health care coverage and a retirement plan) while gradually saving to purchase a car.
“It’s a total adjustment from everything I’ve done in my life,” Colson said. “This work, getting up consistently every day, just all the stuff that goes into working every day – like, I’m getting the right amount of sleep now. I don’t steal time. I don’t want to be sleepy and hiding in the bathroom when I should be working. I enjoy getting up every day to come in here and do my eight hours. Even with the aches and pains. I haven’t worked like this in, man, 20 years.”
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McBride earned the Master Technician certification from the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association while in prison. She met with representatives from JBM shortly after being released. So, by the time she came to Cincinnati Works, she was at a different stage of the job-search process than most of her JumpStart classmates.
Still, McBride found value in being a Cincinnati Works Member, beginning with the mock interviews but especially in the weeks after graduation:
- She worked with our legal coordinator to address an old insurance claim and apply to regain her driver’s license.
- She met multiple times with a financial coach to establish a spending plan, repair her credit, prepare her taxes and pay the reinstatement fees for her driver’s license.
- She meets regularly with her career coach, who has first-hand experience rebuilding credit and finding affordable housing after serving time in prison.
“It has meant a lot to me,” McBride said. “I wish I could get down here more.”
She enrolled in the Roadmap to Wheels program at JBM, a partnership between the company and a local church that helps employees save for and purchase a used car. She can utilize the Beacon of Hope van while she lives at Pathways, but soon she will need an apartment and a car to get to work.
In the meantime, she has earned praise from her supervisors at JBM for her performance on the production line, and she has some ideas for how the company garden can be more productive this spring and summer. She has even pondered a career in sales. As JBM continues to use more sustainable sources, McBride said, “I could sell that to any guy on the street. I believe in that, and if I believe in something, I know I can sell it.”
The gardening certification was a seed. JBM provided the soil, and Cincinnati Works and our partners provided the water and light.
“I have no idea how far I can take it,” McBride said. “I just know it’s something I am interested in and I have some knowledge behind it. When the time is right, I will use it. Right now, I am just following this path I’m on to get where I need to be.”