New Life Job Fair offers a reset button to convicted felons

New Life Job Fair offers a reset button to convicted felons

September 15th, 2017 by Emmett Gienapp in Local Regional News

Rebecca Jacobs, a career specialist, works with Thomas Ellis and Ricky Halfacre as they put together their resume during a job fair event at the American Job Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. Thursday was a day of preparation for job candidates, while Friday employers will be on site to speak with the individuals about job openings.

Photo by Erin O. Smith /Times Free Press.

The American Job Center on Brainerd Road was a flurry of activity Thursday morning as career development professionals worked with several dozen convicted felons determined to hit the reset button.

Attendees signed up for the New Life Job Fair to better their interview skills and, among other things, try to land jobs at local companies during the two-day event. When they arrived on Thursday, they were broken into groups to begin training for a job fair scheduled for today.

The groups were then shepherded into classrooms, where instructors walked them through how to write resumes and comport themselves during job interviews. For men like Darrius Higgins Sr., the event offers a radical opportunity.

"I've been a convicted felon since I was 17 years old," he said. "Nobody really gives convicted felons a chance to try to get into the work force the right way."

Higgins said he has five years of college experience, but time and time again he's been turned away from jobs or given only the most menial responsibilities because of his record.

Thomas Heffner gets help from Dequon Daniels while they work on their resumes during a job fair event at the American Job Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. The job fair is a two-day event focused on reintroducing men and women into the work force by taking them through job preparation, resume writing, interview skills and more.

Thomas Heffner gets help from Dequon Daniels while...

Photo by Erin O. Smith /Times Free Press.

"This kind of opportunity gives you a chance and a better hope," he said. "You know a lot of guys don't have hope, cause I didn't have none. I didn't know. I was intelligent, but somewhere down the line I lost [hope], and when you lose that, it's kinda hard to get back."

This week's job fair is the third of its kind in Chattanooga and one of its architects, Troy Rogers, the city's public safety coordinator, said the fairs are producing results. Following the last two events, 26 felons have found gainful employment, he said.

"Our numbers are saying this is working," he said.

Rogers said it's essential to plug men and women who have resorted to criminal activity back into productive work environments, because the alternative is a lose-lose situation.

"We're fighting the recruiting of gangs right now by blocking the next wave of young men coming out of the prison system," he said.

This week's event is at capacity, but its organizers hope to host another soon. For more information, call 423-643-6702.

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.

David Banks, coordinator of workforce development at Youth and Family Development City of Chattanooga, speaks with individuals about how to respond to different types of interviewers during a job fair event at the American Job Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. The job fair is a two-day event focused on reintroducing men and women into the work force by taking them through job preparation, resume writing, interview skills and more.

Photo by Erin O. Smith /Times Free Press.