The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) offers a training workshop for formerly incarcerated inmates to give them skills they need for a new life, the San Bernardino Sun reported.
“I got goals. I’m aiming high. I’m very focused on what I’m trying to do with my life, and I thank CEO for that,” said Carlos Cazares, who was formerly incarcerated.
CEO San Bernardino was started in 2013 and partnered with the California State Reentry Initiative, the San Bernardino Community College District and Cal–Trans.
There are 27 CEO centers in six different states, including New York. The overall program has placed more than 25,000 of the formerly incarcerated over the past decade into full-time employment positions.
The work program starts with a four-day life skills workshop, where CEO coaches teach newly released participants about new technologies, resources, employment practices, and financial resources. They also stage mock interviews; participants often wear suits for their interviews donated by Men’s Wearhouse.
“Putting on a suit made me feel presentable, made me feel like I was 10 feet high,” Cazares said. “I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity they present us. I have never been to another program where they’ve been really focused on bettering people and helping them get to a better point in life.”
The program gives opportunities to both men and women. It accepts all people regardless of their commitment offense. The program serves around 35 to 45 people at a time who are on parole or probation.
“If you’re ready to change, if you’re ready to turn that corner this way and not that way, we’re here for you” said Michael Wahome, the CEO program manager.
While participants are being coached and counseled by CEO, they are also working at paying jobs provided through CEO’s partnership with CalTrans and San Bernardino Public Works. Their work days typically begin at 6 a.m. and end at 2 p.m. They work on removing roadside litter throughout the county. The pay rate is $11 an hour. For many, this is their first paid employment.
Wahome told the San Bernardino Sun, “The nature of our program is they’re here because they want to be here. They may be referred here, but it is not mandated.”
“What gets me through the day is knowing I’m doing something in life,” said Minerva Rivera, a former inmate. “I’m getting myself stable, realizing I’m doing what I need to do to become a productive member of society.”
Wahome summed up; “We have in-depth conversations about financial education, goal setting. We help them build their vision of their future—any future they want other than incarceration — and light a fire under that vision.”