Job Fair Planned for Felons

Community organizers are planning a job fair targeting an often overlooked demographic of our population -- convicted felons.

Companies often ask for the same types of information on job applications -- including one question that is a showstopper for many bosses. "Have you ever been convicted of a crime other than a misdemeanor?"

"I didn't think it was that bad of a thing," says Cecil Hollie who spent 30-days in jail for drug possession. "But when I put it on an application -- once they see the felony -- it's in the trash can."

Even though that was nine years ago, the mistake has been following him ever since. "I have my foot in the door many times and then when they get my criminal background, I get a phone call. They won't accept me."

Mickey Clark has had similar problems. "2nd Degree murder." In 1985, he killed a man defending his own daughter and spent 11-years in prison. He had to go out-of-state to find employment.

"These people are part of the community and they're coming out of prison everyday in Nebraska," says Sam Dickson with Metro Community College. "What are you going to do? A lot of them end up doing what they're used to doing and then we're back where we started."

At any given time, Nebraska has more than 4,000 people in the prison system. Some spend just a few days or up to a few months locked up before heading back to the real world. Many businesses are reluctant to hire an ex-felon. Especially if they've ever been burned before.

"The reluctance is what you experienced," says David Vaughn with PSI Employment. "You can only expect in the future what you experienced in the past unless there's been some type of change."

It's the reason for this table talk session at the Eastern Nebraska Community Action Partnership where colleges, job search companies and community organizations can find something that works.

"We want employers to look at a wider market -- to know there are good applicants who are being overlooked," says Saundra Love, Job Development Coordinator for ENCAP.

"Bring the employers to the table and talk about tax breaks," says MCC Community Liason Tommie Wilson. "But that's not the issue. It's giving people a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chance to prove their worth."

That way, Mickey Clark and Cecil Hollie can find not just a job, but a career.

The United Network Employment Fair will be June 29 at Metro Community College Fort Omaha campus, Building 7, 1-4pm.

More than 1,000 employers have been invited.

Experts tell me that there are 600-700 employers who hire ex-offenders. The problem is they're sensitive about talking on the topic because they fear if customers know that -- they'll quit coming to the business.

Next week, May 20, there will be the John Bernardi Job Fair Under the Tent.

Bernardi died in November 2009 from complications of H1N1. As manager of the Charles B. Washington library branch at 28th and Ames Avenue, he held an adult job fair every year that drew up to 1,500 people.

To continue the tradition, Nebraska Workforce Development will host a job fair at Cathedral of Love Church parking lot at 2816 Ames Avenue from 10am-4pm on May 20.

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