When a local outfit called Blue Jacket opened its doors back in 2005, the goal was to take people with criminal records, teach them the ways of the real world, help find them jobs and watch what happened.
The program was a no-nonsense one. You had to sincerely want a fresh start. You had to be on time. If you were late more than once you were out. You had to dress in business attire, including dress shoes and a tie. Didn’t like that? You were out.
The notion, was that if you take people who really needed a second chance, teach them how to look for work, how to look when they look for work, how to behave when they look for work, and exactly what employers expect of their workers, it will work.
Blue Jacket executive director Tony Hudson calls that the hidden rules of the middle-class work ethic, something some people were never taught.
Eventually Blue Jacket teamed with Community Action of Northeast Indiana to establish the CANI Academy and began accepting people with any kind of barrier to employment – a history of homelessness, addictions, or people who’ve just never been given guidance.
Well, it has worked. Last year, 84 percent of the people who went through the four-week program found work within three months, and in its history, only 9 percent of those with a criminal history have returned to crime.
Even Blue Jacket’s store, which sells donated business attire but provides appropriate clothes for those in the program, has been a roaring success. Hudson says even he shops there.
The only catch is that the program is offered only in Allen County.
That’s about to change, thanks to a man named Richard Hoffman.
Hudson describes Hoffman as a late Fort Wayne resident who was pretty wealthy and had a sensitivity to people who needed second chances. When he died, he left an endowment, and the trustees of that endowment chose Blue Jacket and the CANI Academy to receive funding.
One condition, though, was that none of the money could be used in Allen County. It all had to be spent in outlying areas.
So later this month, for the first time, the entire Blue Jacket concept will be made available in Kendallville.
“We’ve got a large number of people who have been courting us in Kendallville,” Hudson said.
The classes will be held at the IMPACT Institute in Kendallville, and orientations will take place at 10 a.m. on Thursdays. Anyone interested in starting the program must go through the orientation.
The endowment will also allow people who are accepted into the program, which normally costs $600, to attend for free.
“We have this service that you don’t have to pay for,” Hudson says.
Already, people are asking why a program like this isn’t offered in more places, such as Warsaw, South Bend, Elkhart, Marion, Hudson says.
The expansion of the program is also made easier because it has partnered with CANI, which has a presence in 11 counties in northeast Indiana.
Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.