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Massachusetts Funds Reintegration Help for Former Inmates

Fourteen organizations across the state will receive part of $2.5 million in grant funding to help former inmates get back into the workforce. Two of the organizations are based in Lowell.

Massachusetts Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Lauren Jones announced at the offices of MassHire Greater Lowell Monday morning that 14 organizations across the state, including two in Lowell, will receive $2.5 million grant funding this year to help reintegrate former inmates into the workforce.

The grant funding is given through the Re-Entry Workforce Development Demonstration Program, a state initiative to help former inmates get back into the workforce and back on their feet, a prospect that can be especially difficult for people with prior criminal records. Two of the organizations are based in Lowell: MassHire Greater Lowell and The Bridge Club of Greater Lowell.

Jones said the grant funding is an opportunity to "elevate economic mobility" and prioritize opportunities the community provides to individuals and households."

"I also see it as an opportunity to re-engage the unemployed and underemployed and discouraged individuals, and individuals who are deserving of second chances," said Jones.

Jones added that the 14 organizations were creating "paths and pathways for individuals," who face greater challenges in getting into the workforce.

"The work you are doing in opening the doors, partnering with employers, and the coaching and the support that will be so incredibly important, is going to provide meaningful outcomes to the participants, our jobseekers and our future workforce," said Jones.

MassHire, an organization that offers employment and training services as well as workforce development activities, received $200,000 through the grant program. MassHire will use that money to partner with the Billerica House of Correction to create a program focused on training former inmates in the social services and manufacturing industries, with graduates of the program being placed in roles as recovery coaches, outreach workers and machine operators.

MassHire Greater Lowell Workforce Board Executive Director Kevin Coughlin said the number of former inmates his organization serves has risen significantly just in the last year.

"With our new and expanded outreach this year, we have increased our customers served in our region by over 42 percent since fiscal year 2022," said Coughlin. "Our total customers served this year was 7,465."

Coughlin went on to say that 62 percent of those customers were on unemployment insurance, 66 percent were new to the MassHire system, 57 percent were people of color, 52 percent had at most a high school education, 40 percent were above the age of 46 and the average starting salary they were able to secure averaged out to $32 an hour.

"As you can see, MassHire efforts are greatly helping many customers throughout our region," said Coughlin.

The Bridge Club is an organization founded in 2020 as a nonprofit dedicated to giving people in recovery from substance abuse a safe place to meet. It also offers services like assisting in detox, rehabilitation, sober living placement and helping former inmates re-enter the workforce and society. The Bridge Club also received $200,000 from the grant, which will be used to partner with the Middlesex County Sheriff's Office to offer training programs focused on the manufacturing industry, with job placement opportunities for graduates of the programs.

Bridge Club Executive Director Bob Cox said after the announcement that the timing of this grant funding is "phenomenal" for his organization.

"This is much-needed funding and is going to allow us to continue on a program we started in 2022, the Bridge Back Initiative," said Cox.

Cox said the Bridge Club is also receiving grant funding for $500,000 a year for three years through the U.S. Department of Labor's Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program.

"It is the same program, but it is geared specifically towards veterans who are incarcerated or previously incarcerated," said Cox.

That extra grant, Cox said, will also bring in additional services like an individualized licensed drug and alcohol counselor, a licensed clinical social worker and individualized intensive outpatient trainings.

Also receiving $200,000 through the grant program announced by Jones Monday is Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester. Those funds will be used to offer culinary training in partnership with the Worcester County Sheriff's Office, with opportunities for graduates of the programs to be placed in food preparation roles at the Massachusetts Restaurant Association and Snapchef.

Commonwealth Corp. Director of Justice -Based Initiatives Zachary Rich said he hopes to see it become much easier for former inmates to get back on their feet and into society.

"My dream is to have, at any point in time, anywhere in the commonwealth when somebody is transitioning back into the community from incarceration that there is a program armed with qualified, talented staff like yourselves that know how to work with this population, know what the needs these folks are facing and knowing the barriers folks are up against," Rich told the roomful of grant recipients.

Lowell City Manager Tom Golden said he thinks everyone deserves "that second chance," and praised organizations like the Bridge Club and their persistence in getting formerly incarcerated individuals back on their feet. In at least the case of the Bridge Club, Golden said, they have the patience to give people not just second chances, but as many chances as it takes to get back into the workforce.

"Giving people that opportunity, that second, third, fourth chance, is needed, especially to try to get people back into the workflow and get them into a different lifestyle," said Golden.

(c)2023 The Sun, Lowell, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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