Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Program Readies Inmates for Life; Faith-Based Intiative Offers Training, Jobs

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Program Readies Inmates for Life; Faith-Based Intiative Offers Training, Jobs

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Schoettler, Times-Union staff writer

Thomas Nesbit and Legregg Jackson used their first day on the job yesterday to begin renovating an old Springfield home and their lives.

They ripped down plaster and picked up old dry wall. They got advice and encouragement on staying employed and out of trouble.

And then, they returned to their beds in the Duval County jail, awaiting another day of work and hope that this stint in jail is their last.

Nesbit and Jackson are part of Ready4Work, a faith-based community program designed primarily to help ex-offenders get construction training and jobs once they leave jail.

"I can't see why you would want to go back behind the wire," said Nesbit, 45, who will be freed in September after serving nearly five years for embezzlement. "There are a lot of skills you can learn here."

The Ready4Work program is run by Operation New Hope and City Center Ministries, a partnership of religious and business officials formed about four years ago to help the homeless, ex-cons and others looking for work, housing and a decent life.

Last week, the partnership received its first installment -- $34,000 -- of a $1 million federal grant for the program. Ready4Work is designed to provide mentors to people still in jail and give them work experience once they're freed.

President Bush plans to use Ready4Work as a national model for $23 million in similar programs in at least 15 other cities. The program is supported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Center for Faith-based and Community Initiatives, said Director Jim Towey.

"They're not just fixing houses, they're fixing their own lives. This is exciting to see," Towey said yesterday as six inmates cleaned a house at Walnut and East Third streets.

Kevin Gay, executive director of Operation New Hope, said the program will help turn ex-con's lives around, while cleaning up Springfield and other neighborhoods filled with blight. The local program is expected to employ as many as 100 people this year. …

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