‘They have a chance’: Center finds jobs, restores hope for formerly incarcerated

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Charlotte organization is making progress finding work for people released from prison, despite the pandemic.

Channel 9 has previously reported on the outcome of a lawsuit that is forcing North Carolina prisons to release 3,500 people early due to COVID-19 concerns.

Anchor Brittney Johnson talked to advocates working to help more people re-enter our cities with the support they need to succeed.

Site Supervisor Chris Davis is one of the advocates. Davis said he knows how hard it can be for people convicted of crimes to find work because at his old job, he was the one who had to turn those people down.

“I’ve had jobs, had people and the interview was perfect and in the end they say ‘I have something I have to tell you,’ they have a record,” Davis said. “I would have to let them go because it was like a ‘no,’ bad background, couldn’t get the job.”

Now, he supervises crews with the Center for Employment Opportunities. The center only hires people recently released from prison. Eyewitness News met up with Davis and his crew while they landscaped at a Bojangles in Charlotte.

Life Skills Specialist Amber Cooper said as they work to trim and clear the grounds, they’re also building work history, communication skills, confidence and a brighter future for program members.

“A lot of them know and recognize that ‘hey, I’ve been around the wrong crowd’ or ‘hey, I just need a resume’ or maybe ‘I just need to learn how to do some mock interviews’ or whatever the situation may be,” Cooper said. “To get that understanding of what they need coming into the program really allows us to tailor a plan.”

Charlotte’s Greenlight Fund launched the Center for Employment Opportunities in September 2020. The center’s program works in partnership with the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and Bojangles.

By February, the center had hired more than 50 people for transitional jobs, according to Executive Director Carrie Cook. 18 other people had found full-time work.

“In investing in the Center for Employment Opportunities, we saw an opportunity to provide a pathway for dignity and to provide a pathway for employment,” Cook said.

Davis said he loves hearing from those who’ve moved on and are still doing well.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said.

The program has a waiting list of people ready to work. Leaders hope more companies will step up with available jobs and a willingness to give people a second chance

“We don’t want them to go back to what they did,” Davis said. “They really they want to make it, so we want to sure they have a chance.”

The Center for Employment Opportunities is working to hire 800 people over the next four years. Their goal is to reduce recidivism by 20% in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community. Learn more here.