Ex-cons among graduates earning special certificate, new start through KC nonprofit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Helping people transition from prison and back to society is the goal of the nonprofit Strategic Workforce Development, Inc.

On Friday, the newly formed nonprofit held its first-ever graduation for 10 graduates from varying backgrounds.

“I’m excited. I worked hard to get here. Just excited about moving ahead in my future," said Steven Ross, a SWD graduate.

As he prepared for the event, Ross said this is now his second chance.

“When I was incarcerated, I decided that I was going to utilize the time to better myself, get myself educated, to become more aware of what I need to do, set goals,” he said.

After spending 13 years in prison, he found the Strategic Workforce Development program and is hoping for a fresh start with a budding interest in construction.

“My future plan and goal is to be an electrical contractor, and as I said before, Strategic Workforce and other networks have made me see that is possible and achievable now,” Ross said.

With his new Occupational Safety and Health Administration certificate, he said he’s one step closer to that goal.

Like so many other men and women who share a similar story to Ross, it can be a struggle to find work with a criminal background.

But this metro nonprofit is providing the necessary push for ex-cons and the disadvantaged to better themselves and land on their feet.

Organizers are fully involved in the process from start to finish, providing employment services, professional recruitment and hands-on training.

“Construction is part of the economic development of our city, and we have a lot of rebuilding going on," said York Wilson, president and founder of SWD. "So the need for these guys is a at a tremendous high. I like to let them know there is a need for you if you want to do this."

Wilson said the opportunity to have a well-paying job can be a life-saver for some of the graduates.

“If they don’t have a job, naturally you are going to resort back to criminal lifestyle because you need to make money. But also, having a job takes you out of that environment and puts you into another environment," Wilson said.

Of the 10 graduates, seven have already been offered jobs.

Organizers with SWD said they have been able to help employ more than 200 people through connections at 50 different employers in the last eight months.

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