Last week, over 60 individuals attended a RE-ENTRY Job Fair at the Cecil Tillis Center in Columbia. This included a dozen inmates from the South Carolina Department of Corrections’ RE-ENTRY/Work Release Program. REEMERGE and the Carolinas AGC Foundation’s Build Your Career workforce development initiative, hosted the RE-ENTRY Job Fair with the goal of matching formerly incarcerated citizens with potential employers.
In a first-ever endeavor orchestrated by local entrepreneur and business consultant Tony Lawton and Nena Walker-Staley, the Deputy Director of Programs, Services and Re-Entry at SCDC, inmates scheduled to be released August 1st were allowed to attend the job fair, fill out job applications and get a jump-start on meeting potential employers.
Four employers registered with Carolinas AGC participated in the job fair, setting up exhibitor booths and discussing career opportunities with their respective companies. Contract Construction (based in Ballentine, SC with offices in multiple SC locations), the Insight Group (based in Charleston, SC), Hardhat Workforce Solutions (based in Columbia, SC) and Smith-Midlands (a division of Smith-Carolina Corp with corporate offices based in VA and offices in the Carolinas) all hosted booths. Additionally, two Columbia based employers, TDG Staffing and Peterson Lawncare & Maintenance were also present.
SC Works, Goodwill’s Good Start Program and Path 2 Redemption also participated in the event and had vendor booths showcasing their services. “This was a huge opportunity,” said author and motivational speaker Lester Young. “People don’t understand how important it is, simply to be given an opportunity and to have hope,” adds Young. Young, who was incarcerated for over 20 years, is the founder of Path2Redemption and the author of The Five Stages of Incarceration has worked with Lawton to assist in making referrals and connecting resources for REEMERGE program participants. Dawn Sloan, a member of the program’s advisory committee and retired Expungement Director for the 5th Judicial Circuit was also on-hand to discuss expungements.
“We have the program and we have the people, those who are trying to successfully reintegrate and who need employment . . . what we need most of all are employers who are willing to give people a second chance,” says Lawton.
The goal is to use employment, coaching, and entrepreneurship education to assist in combating the barriers of reentry. This program is designed to fully prepare those who have been formerly incarcerated to work and become gainfully employed, or to complete technical training that will prepare them for licensure and eventually self-employment.