Volunteering Is A Powerful Way For Ex-Offenders To Re-Enter The Workforce

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Barriers and hiring filters impede smooth re-entry into the workforce for ex-offenders. Many ex-offenders, who are already fighting personal obstacles unfortunately find it difficult to get a footing in today's job search. Companies like GoodHire remove some of those barriers through their work in fair chance hiring background check services that support ban-the-box compliance at the local level and provide candidates a chance to add context to criminal records directly in their background check results.

But ex-offenders could also leverage volunteer work as a tool to show competency and desire to work as a way to convince potential employers of their value. If their goal is to get hired, then the volunteer experience positioned as work experience on their job application is a viable and powerful option.

"As it relates to the workforce, volunteering puts you in the position to be hired officially," states Alisa Smedley, Coordinator with Montgomery County Correctional Facility's American Job Center in Boyds, Maryland. Organizations like Volunteer Match are resources for ex-offenders looking to find volunteer positions to help them land more permanent job opportunities.

Companies and nonprofits with volunteer-to-hire programs for ex-offenders have potential as useful landing spots. Furthermore, Smedley says, "The employer has the chance to ‘test drive’ a potential employee, and many times this will lead to permanent employment."

There are other reasons why volunteering is a powerful experience for ex-offenders as they re-enter the workforce :

1. Volunteering Curbs Criminal Thinking

"Cold-heartedness is considered to be one of the faulty thinking aspects of criminal behaviors. When a former offender understands the concept of ‘giving back’ through volunteering, that goes a very long way towards changing negative thought patterns," says Smedley.

Donna Rojas is a Montgomery County Correctional Facility American Job Center Program Specialist for Montgomery County Correctional Facility. She says looking at programs that receive the "Second Chance Grants" is a place to start. It's a U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice-funded program to help organizations such as Interfaith Works to provide housing and jobs. There are local organizations with programs providing volunteer opportunities for additional job training, housing, and other basic needs former offenders need.

2. Structured Volunteer Programs Foster Hope, Confidence, and Skills

For former offenders, re-entry into life and the workforce can be overwhelming and they often face many challenges. Staci Parker, a doctoral candidate in Organizational Development Psychology and a certified coach, says obstacles to employment include lack of transportation, limited housing opportunities, self-esteem issues, and employer risk aversion.

Employers choosing to implement a well-structured volunteer program can cultivate a healthy culture for acceptance and offer ex-offenders a chance to contribute to society. Providing them with hope not only helps improve the quality of their lives, but also positively affects families and communities. Volunteer programs offer a productive environment both for the organization and for the ex-offender who desires a smooth transition back into society.

3. Organization and Structure

Volunteers of America offers "...a continuum of proven service models to help offenders rebuild their lives and re-enter their communities. Through services such as literacy training, housing location, alcohol and substance comprehensive treatment, and case management, offenders gain skills and are empowered to succeed."

Many organizations have good intentions in providing former offenders who volunteer an employment landing place. However, if it is a volunteer-to-hire position without defined boundaries and guidelines, it could be a setback for all, including ex-offenders.

"Many projects fail because a solid plan was not in place before it launched. Many ex-offenders have experienced disappointment and find it hard to trust anyone. The last thing that they need is yet another program that fails!" says Smedley.

With good structure and a solid plan, everyone involved, including the ex-offender, feels their contributions matter.

Additional Resources for Ex-offenders and Potential Employers:

  • Help for Felons lists multiple organizations offering re-entry programs organized by business, and city- and state-funded programs. Although they don't list volunteer-to-hire programs, many have them available on a state by state basis.
  • The Federal Bonding Program helps ex-offenders learn how to approach an employer and speak about their crime or occurrence during the hiring process. For employers, the program lessens the risk of employing former offenders by assuming loss or damage to the employer.
  • Through our GoodHire For Good program, we partner with nonprofits that specialize in fair hiring, reentry, and work training programs to provide free background checks to the people they serve.

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Mark Anthony Dyson

Mark Anthony Dyson

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Mark Anthony Dyson, MAEd/AET, is the founder of The Voice of Job Seekers, an award-winning blog designed to help job seekers solve their job search challenges and successfully find careers. He is on a mission to help the unemployed, underemployed, and underappreciated find jobs and get noticed. Find out more at thevoiceofjobseekers.com.

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