By MICHELLE WEIDENBENNER,
Local Author, Speaker, Trainer, John Maxwell Team
FORT WAYNE — Everyone makes mistakes. Those who make a poor choice, commit a crime and get caught often find themselves with a conviction on their record that keeps them from getting a job.
Many offenders regret their choice and want to turn their life around, get a job and provide for their family, but aren’t given a second chance.
Blue Jacket Inc., a nonprofit company in Fort Wayne, gives ex-offenders, the homeless and the unemployed a second chance every day. They provide the tools and the opportunities for many people to find jobs, but first they’re required to go through a two-week, 40-hour training program.
This program provides adults who face employment barriers with job-readiness training, transitional jobs, job placement. It also includes pre- and post-placement services including education, skills and interest assessments, vocational training and personal and profession development.
Clients participate in mock interviews and roundtables with volunteer human resource managers and small business owners, learning from the experts who hire and fire every day. The candidates have to show up for training on time, complete assignments and dress appropriately before they graduate and are ready for employment.
Jennifer Harvey knows a lot about Blue Jacket Inc. She completed the program in July of 2008 and was hired as a 20-hour-a-week manager of the clothing bank that grew into Blue Jacket’s Clothing Company, a thrift store full of donated professional attire given to each client and sold to the general public to help finance it. Jennifer’s job was to equip clients with the necessary dress-for-success professional attire.
The irony in Jennifer’s story is that, before she came to work for Blue Jacket, she worked for another clothing store but was fired for giving away clothes to a woman with four kids who was down on her luck. When Tony Hudson, the executive director at Blue Jacket Inc., hired her for the clothing manager job, she was thrilled at the opportunity to give clothes away for free.
Since then, she’s become a full-time employee there and is currently the intake and human resource manager. She said, “There’s a difference between someone who makes a mistake and someone who keeps doing it and doesn’t try to change. Then it becomes a habit. We serve those who want a second chance and can prove that they’ll work hard, stay clean, and take responsibility for their actions. I love my job because I get to serve others every day. I help teach them accountability.
“Our company is successful because the people who work here have heart. If we didn’t care it would show and people wouldn’t come. We don’t make a lot of money, but it’s not about that. It’s about serving others and working with a great team. I wish our business model would find it’s way into every community in the United States.”
Jennifer, in a humble tone, said, “I don’t think my story is that exceptional. We’ve helped a lot of people who have been in much worse situations than I was in when I first came here.”
Kurt Kline, the accounting manager at Blue Jacket, said, “What I love most about my job is being able to make an impact in the community. I can use my education and experience to make sure Blue Jacket remains financially stable and allows us to serve as many people as we can that come through our doors. I like knowing that if someone is motivated they can change the direction of their life and become financially independent. The more financially independent they are the better for the community as a whole.”
Funding for the Career Academy comes from foundation grants and fundraising as well as any earned income from Opportunity Staffing. To find out how your company can become a partner with Blue Jacket or for more information visit their website or contact Jennifer at (260) 744-1900.