- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - Twice within two months, Kevin Polite got pulled aside at separate workplaces where he was a temp. He was told he was being let go despite doing a good job.

It’s your felony record, the bosses said. Sorry.

Polite, of Coral Street, found the back-to-back setbacks deeply discouraging. Making do with occasional gigs as a personal trainer, he worried about providing for the four children, ages 8 to 16, he and his wife are raising.

“I got to bring money home. I got bills to pay,” said Polite, 34, who was paroled from state prison in 2014 after serving 4 1/2 years of a three- to six-year sentence on drug and gun-possession convictions.

But since November, a small, but promising job-training program has put Polite back to work, and it could offer a way forward for many others who are trying to shake free from the clutches of bad choices.

Polite’s challenges are not uncommon for parolees returning home. A serious criminal background poisons the chances of landing a good job in Lancaster County, where many employers require job seekers to check a box on the application if they ever broke the law. Even short-term workers get flagged.

Innovative initiative

“One Good Job,” the recently released report of the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Poverty, identifies workforce re-entry barriers as an impediment to reducing Lancaster’s 29 percent poverty rate.

Recognizing the need for second-chance employment, the Community Action Partnership, a nonprofit provider of services for the poor, has started a program called CAPital Workforce to prepare workers for the construction industry, which is experiencing a labor shortage.

Since November, Polite has been a CAP employee in the nonprofit’s new, four-man remodeling crew.

He likes the work and the paycheck he earns every two weeks. He dreams of using the skills he acquires to someday remodel houses on his own and flip them for a profit.

“The very first person who interviewed for the job fit the core definition of why we do this,” said Dan Jurman, CEO of Community Action Partnership, speaking of Polite. “There’s always a risk when you give someone a second chance, but when you do that, the potential reward is exponentially higher.”

Polite and the team have upgraded a small house in the 600 block of St. Joseph Street that nonprofit Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership will put on the market soon for a first-time buyer. The crew will move on to a vacant house in the 300 block of Laurel Street.

Down the road, the crew plans to bid on projects large and small, from government-funded lead-remediation work to repairing porches.

Internship opportunities

Leading the CAPital Workforce crew is Eddie Patton, 44, a general contractor with 20 years of experience. He is now a CAP employee running the program and instructing his inexperienced or “hard-to-hire” crew members, who earn $12 an hour.

Besides Polite, the crew includes Christian Maldonado, 18, of Elm Street, and Ryan Ocascio, 18, of East End Avenue, both 2016 graduates of McCaskey High School, where they were students in the building-trades program.

“These guys are very eager to learn,” said Patton, formerly the proprietor of Rustic Renovations & Remodeling of Narvon. “They want to work.”

Eventually, the crew will be supplemented by paid interns referred by McCaskey, the Tech Centro training center and Stevens College of Technology.

Successful interns will leave with new skills and a letter of recommendation to a prospective employer.

But getting job training isn’t the only benefit. Crew members also are matched with social workers, called navigators.

The navigator assists the worker with any issues - such as a child care emergency, health care need or credit woes - that could sabotage his ability to stay on the job.

“Our plan is to stay with people for as long as it takes,” Jurman said. “We’re tired of the system cutting people off before they’re ready and then being surprised when they didn’t make it on their own.”

Back on track

If CAPital Workforce gains a reputation for quality, on-budget work, more jobs could come its way, allowing for the hiring of more crews.

Community Action Partnership plans to ask major institutions, such as hospitals and colleges, to give its team a shot at their projects.

Any earnings exceeding the cost of labor and materials will go toward scholarships for workers who want extra training, said Vanessa Philbert, household stability impact team leader.

Polite calls the program a godsend. It’s his first time having steady, rewarding work.

“It’s possible to make a good life for yourself,” he said.

Crew leader Patton has only positive things to say about his team member. He said Polite is ambitious and eager to learn, and he appears to be back on track with his life.

“He’s married, has a family and seems very grounded,” Patton said. “He has a very stable life right now, and I know he doesn’t want to mess that up.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2jL24dZ

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Information from: LNP, https://lancasteronline.com

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