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Connecting Returning Citizens To Real Freedom And Prosperity

EDC Workforce Services Division Director Walter Simmons, (4th from l) and EDC President and CEO Jim Coleman, (2nd from r) with panelists at the Community ReEntry and Employment DiscussionLargo, MD - On Friday, March 10, 2017, the Prince George's County Economic Development Corporation (EDC), in partnership with the County's Workforce Development Board kicked off 'ReEntry Month' by hosting a Community ReEntry and Employment Discussion.  More than 100 stakeholders gathered for an open dialogue about the barriers returning citizens encounter when coming back to the community. This panel discussion included representatives from the Office of County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III, the local law enforcement community, the County Department of Corrections, the County Department of Social Services, Maryland Legal Aid, the business community and the non-profit community who provide resource assistance to returning citizens. EDC President and CEO Jim Coleman and Workforce Development Board Vice President Rosalind White welcomed the stakeholders and congratulated them for being a part of such an important forum.  
 
"We have angels among us removing employment barriers for over 1,800 County residents each year who are seeking to reenter our workforce and secure good, high wage jobs," said Coleman.  "The wonderful work that the Workforce Services Division and its Board are doing to help our residents secure the necessary training to get  good job is not just a slogan, we are serious about this mission.  Bringing this group of community leaders and resource providers together is critical because reentry I an important issue in our County, In Prince George's County, we are committed to ensuing that no resident is left behind and that al of our residents have the opportunity to get a good paying job so that they can take care of themselves and their families."
 
One such angel is Pete Goodson, the EDC's Workforce Services ReEntry Coordinator who has, conservatively, helped over 10,000 returning citizens find the pathway to success over the last 15 years. Panelist Felicia Douglas is one of Mr. Goodson's success stories; a returning citizen who, through Mr. Goodson's mentorship and guidance is president of her own company that helps others create their own success stories.
 
"When I returned from my incarceration, my main barrier to success was fear and not knowing where to find the services I needed to reclaim my life," said Douglas.  "I needed mentors like Pete Goodson at the One Stop Center to remind me that although my housing had been taken away, my job position had been taken away and I had been disassociated from people, that was in my past.  Connecting to mentors helps build your confidence.  You still have your skills and there are services in the community that can help you return to your life, but you must fight your fear and have faith. Faith will truly free you."
 
The panel, made up of reentry professionals and returning citizens alike, engaged in a powerful discussion about how Prince George's County can work as a team to ensure that our returning citizens have the opportunity and preparation to succeed. Hot topics included access to resources that have a proven track record of providing desired results and outcomes. Panelist Linda Turner, Manager of County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III's Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI) shared her enthusiasm for working with a diverse group of reentry professionals and stakeholders.
 
"Returning Citizens are a high priority in County Executive Baker's TNI initiative. We have found that career training and sustainable employment is critical in the success of decreasing crime in the County. I'm looking forward to working with my fellow panelists to continue to transform lives."
 
Caryn York, an advocate with the Job Opportunities Task Force and supporter of the 'ban the box' movement, brought up the importance of eliminating the very hindering stigma attached to being a returning citizen. Finally, the panel talked about ways to increase access to expungement. Often, returning citizens have offenses that are eligible to be erased from their record. Some do not know that this service is available. For those who do know about the expungement process, there is often a financial barrier that keeps them from getting rid of a critical obstacle to sustainable employment.
 
The EDC has dedicated the month of March to not only helping our returning citizens combat unique barriers but also to guide them through the process of attaining a sustainable job. EDC Workforce Services Division Director Walter Simmons summed up the importance of focusing on the success of returning citizens in the context of improving the workforce system.
 
"The partnership between the Prince George's County Workforce Development Board and the Economic Development Corporation is critical in identifying innovative opportunities to help our returning citizens," said Simmons. "Bringing these stakeholders together allows us to identify our strengths, our weaknesses, and most importantly what our gaps are and how we can overcome them.  With the brainpower of the 60 stakeholders and 12 panelists who participated in today's discussion, we can now set the footprint on how we move forward improving our workforce system to help our returning citizens move into gainful employment."
  
The next 'ReEntry Month' event, 'Moving Forward: Overcoming a Criminal Background Seminar' will take place on Tuesday, March 21st from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at 1801 McCormick Drive, Suite 140, Largo, MD 20772.  This forum will bring in industry recognized professionals to talk with Prince George's County returning citizens about effective communication with employers, the resources available to them, how to overcome broken relationships with family members to create a support system, and discussing legal issues that disproportionately affect returning citizens and problem solving skills that will help them become productive in today's society.
 
On March 25, 2017, the EDC will partner with the Prison Ministry at Reid Temple AME Church in Glenn Dale, Maryland as they host their annual 'Expunging Criminal Records and Training' event.  Returning citizens will have access to pro bono legal assistance that will be on hand to help them remove eligible offenses from their criminal records.  Other resources will also be on site to assist returning citizens along their journey to true freedom.
 
Register today at www.mwejobs.maryland.org for the 'Moving Forward' event. Contact Vernice Gonzales (vgonzalez@co.pg.md.us) or 301-618-8400 for further information.