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Sam had made a mistake, and it was ruining the rest of his life. He was a convicted felon, and even though he had served his time, he was having trouble finding work. There’s a term—felony friendly—for those employers who are willing to hire former inmates, but felony-friendly employers mostly hire non-violent offenders.
And Sam had been convicted of a violent crime.
Alana Parker, owner of Rocket City Drywall, didn’t exactly plan to hire a convicted felon, but when Sam’s mentor came to her and explained that he was more than a background check and a paper resumé, she decided to take a chance on Sam.
That chance paid off. Sam quickly became one of her most trusted employees.
“I realized very quickly when I brought him on that he had all the skills that I needed for logistics, and he had warehouse management experience,” Alana said. “He has actually moved up and is now a logistics and warehouse manager. He has keys to my office. He has security codes. I trust him 100 percent.”
Sam was able to relate to the often rough-and-tumble construction crowd in a way Alana couldn’t. While Alana’s approach was more of a nurturing one, Sam could clearly see when employees weren’t living up to their potential, and he had no problem taking a stronger approach to get them in shape.
Today, Sam serves as an example to the other employees of what a man should be in the workplace.
“It actually helps that he … has a lot of the interpersonal skills to be able to relate to the specific population that works in construction,” Alana said. “They’re not always Ivy-League educated or come from a squeaky clean background. Sometimes people have had real life struggles, and it helps to have someone in a management position who understands 100 percent where they come from.”
More Than A Resumé
Sam is part of CornerStone Initiative’s Jobs for Life program.
CornerStone Initiative works in the 35805 zip code, focusing on empowerment through education and employment to help community members get back on their feet. Sometimes it’s help going back to school to get their diploma; other times it’s providing opportunities for training in the job skills they’ll need for full-time employment. And sometimes it’s giving them the confidence to get out there and face the world again. Residents of Huntsville’s Westside neighborhood can sign up for Jobs for Life—an eight-week class that teaches them the ins and outs of interviewing, hiring and employment.
Jobs for Life students are assigned a champion—somewhat like a mentor—who will walk them through classes and stay in contact with them for at least a full year. These champions also serve as personal references for the job-seekers, going to potential employers and explaining that even though their resumés might not look impressive, the applicants are willing to work, willing to show up on time and leave late, and willing to learn any new skill needed for the job.
“What CornerStone does is it breaks those barriers,” Alana said. “It allows us to look beyond an application. Everything in business teaches you that you’re supposed to hire the most qualified applicant on paper at the time … Being able to have that element of having a personal reference through Jobs for Life and the CornerStone Initiative makes all the difference between hiring somebody and not hiring somebody. Taking that chance or not taking that chance on somebody.”
It was Sam’s champion who persuaded Alana to take a chance on him. His champion came to her and explained that Sam’s former life was gone. He had turned things around and was ready to work hard.
Alana has hired three Jobs for Life graduates since 2016, and two have already had promotions and salary increases.
I Will Achieve. I Will Attain
Empowerment is something that hits home for Alana. Rocket City Drywall was her grandfather’s business, and she went there every day after school. She took over management of the company in 2010 and bought the business in 2016. She’s only 32, making her half the age of most CEOs in construction. On top of that, women only make up 11 percent of the construction industry.
“My family never let me know that being a woman was an issue,” Alana said. “I’ve been around this business since I was a little girl, and my grandfather just empowered me to take on whatever I wanted to. He taught me how to drive a fork lift when I was 8 years old. I was climbing in and out of big rig trucks on construction job sites since I was a little girl.”
Alana’s family gave her the motivation and confidence to go into construction and business ownership, but she knows not everyone has that same group of people cheering them on and telling them they can do anything.
While many people might take confidence for granted, some lack the self assurance to do even the little things—like going to the DMV to get a driver’s license. That was the case for Adam, another Rocket City Drywall employee. When Alana hired him, he had been without a driver’s license for 11 years and walked to work every day.
But less than a year after being hired, Adam got his driver’s license and now operates a flat bed truck for the company. He was even selected to be on a specialized crew for one of the most prestigious trucks.
“It’s been a miracle watching him grow,” Alana said. “He has a large family … and he has stepped into that position of being a provider for his family. It’s nice seeing someone get that confidence back because that is, I think, a lot of peoples’ issue. They don’t have that confidence of I can achieve; I can attain. I will achieve; I will attain.”
After Alana Parker took a chance and hired a convicted felon, she grew to love the program that brought Sam to her business. Now she serves as a member of their Board of Directors at The CornerStone Initiative. And in the future, Alana looks forward to a continued relationship with CornerStone—and hiring more Jobs For Life graduates.
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