Executive Director Tim Dempsey seeks to revive Chattanooga nonprofit that helped felons

Executive Director Tim Dempsey seeks to revive Chattanooga nonprofit that helped felons

February 6th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

Tim Dempsey, right, executive director of Chattanooga Endeavors, talks while Curtis Matthews listens. The program, which attempts to find jobs for felons, is hoping to raise money for its programs.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.


For more information concerning Chattanooga Endeavors:

• Call Tim Dempsey at 423-266-1888 or 423-451-6039.

• Go to www.chattanoogaendeavors.com.

A nonprofit that found jobs for at least 200 felons a year for more than a decade lost its funding in 2011.

As gang violence simmers and members of an increasing prison population return to the streets, ex-felons say the need is even greater for the jobs program at Chattanooga Endeavors.

"Whether they are ex-convicts or not, they need money," said former Vice Lord Norman Sullivan. "If they can't get [money] working, they're going to [use] other means."

Sullivan, who spent 10 years in prison for second-degree murder, is among hundreds of felons who found employment through Chattanooga Endeavors during the 15 years its job program operated.

When offenders still are in prison and looking for help when they get out, Chattanooga Endeavors and a local halfway house are the only local resources in Chattanooga, said Sullivan.

Executive Director Tim Dempsey said he is applying for three grants totaling $600,000 a year for three years through the Maclellan Foundation and launching a Second Chance Campaign to raise $100,000 in sponsorships, online auctions and small recurring monthly contributions. If approved, the money will be used to get the jobs program operating again, he said.

It's hard to offer young men an alternative to gangs without offering them jobs, said retired Chattanooga police Inspector Napoleon Williams.

"We've got churches for them to join, but we need jobs," he said.

Ministers and other law enforcement officers asked the city and county for 10 jobs to give to gang members, he said, but both governments said they had no jobs.

He said that in the six months he's been talking to gang members, 25 said they would leave the gang if they had another source of income.

"They get in gangs. They start selling dope, robbing and stealing. But they're tired of going to jail. All they need is a job," Williams said.

Sullivan said he grew up in a two-parent home with 24 brothers and sisters. With so many children, his parents couldn't give him the attention he needed. He joined a gang at age 10 and went to jail for second-degree murder at 23.

He served 10 years, then got a job with the help of Chattanooga Endeavors less than a month after getting out of prison in 2004.

At its peak, Chattanooga Endeavors helped facilitate full-time employment for 260 people and temporary-to-hire employment for 130 people who had committed felony crimes, officials said.

City gang task force coordinator Boyd Patterson said Chattanooga Endeavors and other programs that help felons re-enter society are needed, but the task force has no money to give.

"We're being funded by human capital," said Patterson. "But there are so many people who want to help. One lawyer told me he could teach kids how to study."

The total annual budget for Chattanooga Endeavors is about $500,000, Dempsey said. About $200,000 of that went to pay the former felons who got employment through the nonprofit's temporary staffing program, he said.

The staffing program paid people who trained for jobs, he said, and the company where they trained would, in turn, pay Chattanooga Endeavors a fee that generated about $50,000 a year.

The jobs program was cut one year after FBI statistics showed Chattanooga had the third-highest crime rate in the state, behind only Memphis and Knoxville.

The program ended in June 2011 after $55,000 in federal stimulus funding ended. Endeavors also lost $50,000 in other federal money that supported its staffing program, and $18,500 when the city/county sales tax agreement expired last year.

"We haven't lost all funding. We still have staff working on outreach, but the money available to run the training program is no longer adequate, so we had to suspend it," said Dempsey.

The real way to reduce crime is by giving survival alternatives to people who feel that crime is the only way, said Dempsey.

He found employment for felons by developing relationships with 15 employers through staffing agencies and 50 to 75 other employers directly. Between 2002 and 2011, those employers hired 972 workers -- about 74 percent of the 1,320 people who completed the Chattanooga Endeavors job skills training class, he said. Several people who didn't get jobs through the program enrolled in school, he said.

The jobs program included monthlong job-training classes for 20 hours a week that enabled Dempsey to convey employer expectations and see which ex-convicts were suited for the job. He then recommended the best person for the job to the employer.

"The employers trusted us," Dempsey said.

Wally Smith, director of manufacturing for M&M Industries, which makes containers for hazardous and nonhazardous solids and liquids, hired at least six people temporarily in the two years he's worked with Chattanooga Endeavors. They were all hired temporarily at first, then full-time, and some still are employed at M&M, said Smith.

"If they had not cut out the funding and they were still going today, we would still be getting people from [Chattanooga Endeavors]," Smith said.