Chattanooga to host another job fair for those who have gone through the criminal justice system

A hiring sign is placed at a booth for prospective employers during a job fair Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in the West Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

A week ahead of an expo that is meant to help the formerly incarcerated-turned-entrepreneurs build relationships with local business owners, a job fair geared only for those who have gone through the criminal justice system will take place.

"This is for everyone who has gone through the system, from DUI to more serious charges," Troy Rogers, the public safety coordinator for the city of Chattanooga, said in a telephone interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Monday.

This week's event, A New Life: Career Prep & Job Fair, will be held over two days, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, at the American Job Center, Eastgate Town Center, 5600 East Brainerd Road, Suite A5. It precedes the Returning Talent Entrepreneurial Expo, which is scheduled 6-8 p.m. July 28 at the Family Justice Center on Uptain Road.

The first day of A New Life will consist of organizers preparing participants for interviews by providing vouchers for goodwill clothing, haircuts for those who need them and counseling from speakers and attorneys from the Chattanooga Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division. The second day, those seeking employment will be able to speak to 23 local company representatives offering them a chance of employment, despite their criminal records.

Since the first job fair geared toward felons around six years ago, men and women who have gone through the criminal justice system have found jobs and even started their own businesses. One of them was Theodore Sanders, who after attending a job fair in 2018 and meeting Rogers, was able to get a job doing construction work.

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If you go

— What: A New Life: Career Prep and Job Fair— When: Career Prep Day (interview prep, speakers, barber services available), 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday; Job Fair Day (23 companies represented), 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday— Where: American Job Center, Eastgate Town Center, 5600 East Brainerd Road, Suite A5

"When I got the construction job, working for $12 an hour, I pretty much learned everything from that point," Sanders said in a telephone interview on Monday.

After a few years working for others doing construction, Sanders was able to launch his own company, Sanders Construction, in December 2021. His first job was remodeling an entire home.

"I started my own (company) because I wanted to get custody of my kids and be able to build a legacy," Sanders said.

Since then, Sanders, who is hoping to take his company national, has remodeled everything from kitchens to roofs. Sanders said business is going so well it's getting harder to keep up with the demand.

"I get a lot of jobs, doing a lot of different things," Sanders said, adding that he's in the process of completing a total remodel on a second house. "People just start calling about different things."

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On Friday, Sanders hopes to give others the same opportunity he was given in 2018.

"It's not really ideal for people like me to come out of jail," Sanders said. "They hold that (criminal record) against us, and they make it hard."

Sanders asks those who have gone through the system to never give up on their dreams.

"No matter how hard it's going to be if it was easy, everybody would do it. The fact that it's going to be hard, it's going to be a bigger reward," Sanders said. "Just keep going about it, just set your goals, set your plan and don't let anyone stop you."

Contact La Shawn Pagán at [email protected] or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.