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Guiding Light Partners with Goodwill to Find Employment, Reduce Recidivism for Those with Criminal Convictions

Guiding Light is partnering with Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids for a pilot program to support its Offender Reentry Programs, which are designed to help those with criminal convictions find employment and become contributing members of the community.

Through The Job Post, its talent placement firm, Guiding Light is finding jobs with companies that not only pay a living wage but are willing to provide the extra support needed so those with criminal convictions to be successful. Guiding Light also provides help with personal protective equipment and transportation, which can be barriers to finding and keeping a good job.

“The stigma of having been in prison or jail, along with a long list of felonies and misdemeanors, can make it extremely challenging for our participants to find meaningful work once they have paid their debt to society,” said Joyce Fenske, workforce development manager at Goodwill. “Add in housing, mental health, trauma, transportation, technology and other challenges, and succeeding in a job without the proper support can be daunting.

“That’s where our Offender Reentry Programs come in. We were attracted to The Job Post because it, too, is mission-based. Our organizations provide complementary services that provide the support needed to find a job, stay employed and not recidivate.”

Participants are paired with a Goodwill career coach who provides a variety of assessments to determine skills, interests and job readiness. Interview practice, resume design, job search assistance and retention support are offered as well as wrap-around services to address the emotional, psychological, social and other needs for participants.

While Goodwill has provided Offender Reentry Programs for more than 25 years, this is the first dedicated pilot with a staffing agency like The Job Post.

Once the career coach refers participants to The Job Post, April Harrell and her team begin to identify employment opportunities with manufacturing companies that would be a good match for participants. They’re able to provide additional support in terms of bus passes or other transportation vouchers, steel-toed boots and other personal protective equipment and related items that might prevent someone from taking a new job.

“Someone who has done 20 years of prison may be overwhelmed by anxiety and scared to go to their first day of work,” explained Harrell, director of organizational leadership and development. “We approach participants from a space of care, compassion and understanding – we truly get how difficult reentry can be.

“At The Job Post, those we serve are not just a number. We have identified companies willing to look beyond a prison record to the potential that is in each of us. We have more compassion and love to give to keep people on track.”

With today’s tight job market and high demand for workers, Harrell also anticipates more companies will need to start adjusting their standards for criminal backgrounds soon to maintain operations. This program can help companies enter that new territory with a support system in place to help ex-offenders succeed in the workplace. Since the inception of the pilot program, Guiding Light has secured employment for 10 Goodwill participants in manufacturing settings with wages starting at $15 per hour.

Auto Cast, Inc. in Grandville is one of the employers working with The Job Post and the Offender Reentry Programs. Human Resources Manager Ralph Peterson has two program participants currently on his team and says they are great workers. He’s impressed with the program so far – and interested in hiring other participants in the months ahead.

“I think people need and deserve second chances,” Peterson said. “Society puts a stigma on people who have been to prison, but we’re willing to see what they can do.

“April and her team are doing a great job – they are very helpful and care about the people they place. The program is trying to get people back on their feet and, in doing so, helps them and our company. We like having them and want to continue building on this relationship so we can help changes lives for those willing to change.”


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