Workforce Solutions: Preparing Citizens To Successfully Return To Society After ImprisonmentApr 21, 2021 09:00AM ● By Kassidy Garland
Uplift Solutions is a nonprofit organization founded in 2009 with the mission of “Delivering entrepreneurial solutions that support underserved communities for the joy of a healthy life.” Uplift consolidated its work into two primary program areas: Workforce Solutions and Philly Food Rescue. They primarily focus on issues that are related to the Social Determinants of Health, which include food access, healthcare access, and jobs access.
Workforce Solutions was created to alleviate poverty by addressing social deficits and access to employment in under-served communities. It has been operating since May 2017 with the help of Atif Bostic, Executive Director of Uplift Solutions. With a passion for helping people and a love of strategy, Mr. Bostic took his experience as a nonprofit board member and former banker to secure funding and plan a program that would aid in the reentry of citizens into society after their imprisonment.
Although there has been a steady decline in the jail population since 2015, Philadelphia, unfortunately, has the highest incarceration rate of any large jurisdiction in the country. Workforce Solutions ensures that there are opportunities for citizens who are returning to society after imprisonment. Uplift Solutions has been successful in its mission to help these returning citizens succeed in their endeavors. With 1 in 4 people living in poverty in Philadelphia, Uplift aims to use its program to aid in the long-term success of its graduates.
Workforce Solutions works with a diverse population of participants. While the median age is 38 years old, the average time of imprisonment is 4.5 years, with some participants being juvenile lifers and others spending only a night in jail. While the program currently serves about 65% men, 35% women, and a vast African American population, the program serves any who are interested. However, these demographics change frequently along with their outreach which includes halfway houses, parole officers, and word of mouth.
When returning citizens enter the program, they begin with an interview and comprehensive assessment to understand the circumstances and needs that are unique to them. From there, a plan is created by a case advisor to ensure that those needs are met. The program is designed in two parts; a general course load, and an individualized portion. Barriers such as housing, childcare, healthcare, public assistance, and transportation are addressed. While the basic needs of the returning citizens are met, Uplift takes it a step further. Uplift also supports its participants by assisting with GED classes, securing IDs, registering to vote, opening bank accounts, and seeking record expungements.
According to Monique Oakman-Robinson, the Lead Instructor for Workforce Solutions, another challenge for returning citizens is the changes in society that might have occurred during one’s imprisonment like advancements in technology, language, and culture.
With almost two decades of experience, Ms. Okaman-Robinson aims to seamlessly add those topics into her lessons in order to make everyone feel up to date, prepared, and included. Ms. Oakman-Robinson explains her goal for the program and its participants, “They come in defeated, but we want to encourage them and give them hope and reassurance. They also become teachers and role models, so they can bring that back to their community.”
During the 6 week program, returning citizens take classes from 9am-4pm Monday through Thursday, but on Fridays, they take a half-day to accomplish off-campus goals, such as driver’s tests, parole officer meetings, or other appointments. According to the Workforce Solutions Program description, “Life skills training focuses on remediating negative thought patterns, poor decision making, and bad habits. Simultaneously, participants develop the skills necessary to self-evaluate and self-correct, how to effectively work with others, and how to effectively resolve conflict. Typically, life-skill training requires the participant to attend classes for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 4 full weeks.”
After the life skills training, participants transition to technical training. At the end of the multi-week course, all participants are guaranteed a job, which they received specialized training for in their coursework. During the technical training, Uplift makes sure that the participants have the opportunity to roleplay newly learned behaviors and skills to make sure that they leave the program confidently. Oakman-Robinson explains what makes the most successful participants, “We have some young participants who really understand that they’ve made a mistake, and they want to better their life”.
Workforce Solutions partners with a number of businesses including Aetna Better Health, Wash LB, Eatible Delights, Arway Linens, Brown's Super Stores (ShopRite), Burns Family Markets, Down North Pizza, NFI Industries, and Amazon to find successful job placement with a livable wage. Since returning citizens do not sit down for a formal interview with the employer, Workforce Solutions ensures that they are prepared for work on their first day.
After job placement, the case advisor will continue to follow up with the participant for 3 full years. According to Uplift Solutions, “Research has shown that recidivism drops dramatically after 3 years, and we know that Uplift's stunning 2% recidivism rate is partially due to this critical lengthened follow-up.” The 2% recidivism rate is incredible compared to the national average of 64%. Mr. Bostic testifies, “The secret to our success is addressing the whole individual so they can find success and grow.”
According to Barry Johnson, the Director of Workforce Solutions, they maintain a 98% placement rate and 70% retention rate. With 15 years of experience in the reentry field, Johnson explains why Workforce Solutions stand out, “It’s a very rewarding position. I’ve worked with corporations before, but Workforce isn’t the same. In this program, they have a weight lifted off of their shoulders.”
In the upcoming year, Atif Bostic explains that they are looking to grow their program extensively. In 2019, they had 224 returning citizens graduate from the program, but moving forward they are looking to have upwards of 400 people graduate. Uplift Solutions plans to add a few more centers to help these numbers grow. You can look forward to center locations in both Chester and North Philadelphia, as well as a pilot program with Workwell.
This article brought to you in Partnership with Broke in Philly
Kassidy Garland has had a great appreciation for reading and writing since she was young. She graduated from West Chester University in 2017 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English & Women and Gender Studies. With a concentration in creative writing, Kassidy has 5 years of experience writing blogs, articles, and for social media. Based out of Philadelphia, Kassidy loves to write about a number of topics and looks forward to sharing her passion with those at FunTimes Magazine.
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