Economic recovery brightens job hopes for ex-felons |

Economic recovery brightens job hopes for ex-felons

John Seelmeyer

Rebounding employment in northern Nevada is helping Dani Abruzzo find more jobs for felons who recently won their release from prison — but maybe not in the way you’d think.

Abruzzo, a workforce development case manager with The Ridge House in Reno, says the loyalty of former inmates is proving to be an important selling point with employers who are beginning to experience the pains of increased turnover as the job market thaws.

“Our guys are stickers,” she says. “They know the value of that position.”

The word is getting out, and executives of the Reno-based nonprofit say they are beginning to field calls from employers who are proactively reaching out, rather than waiting for The Ridge House staff to call them about possible positions.

And even if employers don’t have open positions right now, more of them are stopping by weekly mentoring sessions at which The Ridge House provides career advice to its jobseekers.

John Collins, workforce development coordinator for The Ridge House, says the nonprofit provides a couple of incentives to employers.

On one hand, the agency uses federal funds to provide on-the-job and workforce training dollars that can cover as much as 50 percent of the wages of a former inmate during a training period.

Employers used those funds to underwrite the training of about half of the three dozen men and women who found jobs through The Ridge House in its most recent fiscal year. About a dozen participants in The Ridge House program currently are working in the region.

But more important than the money, Collins says, is the assurance that The Ridge House provides to employers who worry they might be taking on too much if they hire an ex-felon.

“We provide a lot of peace of mind,” he says. “We’re on the phone with every business at least bi-weekly.” And if an employer encounters a performance issue with the newly hired worker, it can turn to The Ridge House staff to address it.

Launched about 30 years ago, The Ridge House provides a total wrap-around service to men and women who have been recently released. It provides a stable home environment in six residential locations around town, it provides drug and alcohol counseling to folks who face those issues, and it works to get them into jobs.

But not just any job.

Generally, Abruzzo says, The Ridge House is looking for jobs that provide a career track with growth or advancement possibilities. Dead-end entry-level jobs are a possibility only if they provide a clear ticket to something better.

“We want to help put these guys in a job that will keep them on a positive path for their lifetimes,” she says.

Participants in The Ridge House program typically have jobs within three weeks of their release from prison. The nonprofits helps them with everything from working clothing and transportation to job applications to financial bonds that help open some doors that otherwise would be closed to an ex-felon.