The Reentry Success Center: Breaking Barriers to Break Poverty

By Jonathan Bash December 18, 2018

One in three Americans have interacted with the criminal justice system at some point in their lives. This one touchpoint can be life-changing, introducing dozens of new barriers that can follow an individual throughout their life, making it a challenge to get a job, rent a home or raise a child.

These barriers not only hold them back, but their children and the community, perpetuating intergenerational poverty. That’s where the Reentry Success Center (RSC) – a collaboration between Rubicon Programs and community partners – comes in.
 
The RSC is there for those reentering society after incarceration, as well as their families during – and after – their loved one is in prison or jail. While at the Center, staff, volunteers, community members and fellow returning residents work together to help people transition into a good job, put a deposit on an apartment, and reconnect with their friends and family.

“I was released from jail three weeks ago after a ten month sentence at West County,” says Michelle, a new member of the Reentry Success Center. “The Center was talked about a lot while there. I heard so many success stories, so I came here two days after my release.”

Michelle says she knew she needed a support network to get back on her feet. The Center sounded like the perfect fit.

“In jail, we don’t have to talk to each other. You are isolated. You push people away. But you have to work together to move forward in the community,” she says. “We come out uninformed about our rights. We don’t have the direction or structure to do what we need to yet.”

At the Center, she found the structure she was looking for; she soon signed-up for classes that have helped her move forward, including a Life Skills course, a Cognitive Skills class, and Trauma and Grief Therapy sessions. These opportunities have helped her acclimate to the workforce and manage some of the challenges in her personal life.

“My 9-year-old son tells me that I need to communicate better, so for now, I’m focusing on that. I’m also working to collect some of the skills that I need to thrive in my career.”

Another priority is learning how to navigate the job search process with a criminal record. “It’s hard to find a great job or get a career started,” she says. “There are many obstacles. Some employers look at me like a criminal. They put me in a box.”

Luckily, changes to California’s employment laws have made it a bit easier for her to have a fair chance. A.B. 1008, “Ban the Box” legislation signed in 2017 by Governor Jerry Brown, became law after a coalition of formerly incarcerated advocates came together to push for change.

Now, employers are no longer allowed to ask about an applicant’s criminal background until a conditional offer of employment is made, allowing people to show who they really are without preconceived notions and prejudices clouding an employer’s judgement.

“This allows people to sell themselves,” says Lawrence, the Reentry Center’s Volunteer Mentor Coordinator. The law has already helped some employers see the light.  “Now, there are many so-called ‘felon-friendly’ employers out there.”

Getting a job can still be a challenge, but those challenges are often overcome with hard work and dedication. “People have no job history and no references, so we try to take the skills they’ve learned on the street and apply them to today’s job market.”

Lawrence recruits and manages volunteers and mentors who help Center members build new careers – and lives. He’s seen many of his friends, family and colleagues go in and out of the system, and knows from experience what they have to do to succeed.

“It’s been documented that what happens in the first 72 hours after release has the greatest impact on whether an individual recidivates,” he says. “That timeframe is critical: You either go to a shelter, go home to your family, or you fall back in with the ‘homies’ who got you into jail in the first place.”

That’s why housing and community support go hand-in-hand during the reentry process.

“We’re fortunate to have a relationship with the probation department. They often bring newly-released individuals to the Center so they can get the resources they need and avoid their old ways.”

Richmond residents also benefit from a fair-chance policy that makes it more difficult for landlords to discriminate against potential tenants with a criminal record.  This increases access to housing, which in turn makes it easier to get and keep a job.

“When you first come home, you often stay at a shelter and get a temp job. But soon enough, you find out your shelter has residency cap – 30 days. How can potential employers contact you if you’re bouncing back-and-forth without a phone or mailing address?”

Having a stable home makes a world of difference. No one knows this better than Tommy, a participant who has completed the Center’s 8-week Alpha Program, a comprehensive curriculum that serves people who are at the highest risk of recidivating. “I’ve been living in shelters so that I can save my wages for a deposit, and now I’m in the process of looking for a permanent place to stay, a studio in Richmond,” he says.

Tommy says that the Alpha Program changed his life, helping make jobs and housing accessible. “I learned to reenter home life and work life. Then, I got a full-time job – just one month after Alpha.”

“It gave me a second chance at a first-class life,” he says.

After nearly a decade in incarceration, Tommy knew there had to be a better way. “Being told what to do, when to eat…letting someone take control of your life…it’s no way to live. I robbed myself of so many opportunities to advance and be happy. But now, I feel different. I look different. I talk different. I’m out of the unemployment line, and that feels great.”

“Everyone has struggles, but when you surround yourself with positivity, you can overcome those struggles,” he says. “I’m so grateful for the Center’s positive environment, all of these positive people, and all of this new information that has brought so many good things into my life.”

Tommy ties most of his success to the people he has kept around him. “I always had emotional support from my family,” he says. “But the Center had my back. They told me I don’t have to go into this alone, and they stayed by my side.”

 “When you get out of jail, it can feel like you are a newborn baby. You’re naked. You have nothing. But you don’t have to see it that way. It’s only temporary. And you don’t have to fall back on your old ways, or with old, negative people.” You have to make a conscious choice.

“I’m an Eagle. And Eagles can fly. There’s a reason Eagles don’t hang out with Turkeys. Turkeys can’t fly. You have to keep people around you that give you strength.”

In other words, he draws energy – and strength – from the Center.

“I’m going to keep coming here until it closes down. And I hope that day never comes.”

Help Rubicon break poverty by donating or explore the full participant journey here.

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Unlocking Anwar’s Assets, One Month at a Time

By Jonathan Bash December 5, 2018

I was at the end of my rope,” Anwar says with a pensive look in his eyes. “I was looking for jobs. I was even doing well in the interview process. But at the last stage, I just couldn’t get past the background check.”

This recurring roadblock posed a serious challenge to his well-being after an already bumpy couple of years. A workplace accident had triggered a depression that lingered.

“I couldn’t leave the house some days,” he says. “It started to affect my relationships.”

Feelings of worthlessness crept in. He knew he needed to shake that off and try something new. That’s when he made the decision to visit Rubicon Programs.

“I’m willing to do the hard work. I just need a little direction, a little boost. Rubicon assured me that things would come together.”

This gave him the confidence he needed to keep going.

“As soon as I left my first meeting, my Impact Coach, Eric, was texting me to remind me that he’s here to help me out whenever I need it. From there, everything just took off!”

Anwar spent the next few weeks in workshops covering core pathways to change: developing income, building assets, fostering wellness and forging connections. He soon got the boost he needed – advice on how to navigate the job search with a criminal record – and eventually secured a good job with growth potential in the hospitality industry.

“I’m now making the most money I have ever made in my life,” he says. This economic stability finally allowed him to focus on building financial assets and setting the groundwork for a better future.

​To actualize that vision, Anwar met with his Financial Coach, Ken. Together, they checked his credit report.

“I saw everything on my credit report that was bringing down my credit score. We identified things that were going to collections and set-up affordable monthly payments. Then, I applied for a credit card and started using it responsibly. My score then went from very bad to very good!”

Next, with a clean bill of fiscal health in hand, Anwar tackled his transportation challenges.

“My girlfriend and I shared a car that was just one breakdown away from leaving us without any way to get to work.”

What’s worse, Anwar had a backlog of unpaid tickets that snowballed when he couldn’t afford to pay his car registration on time. He had lost his license.

“Rubicon’s lawyers helped me go to court to wipe out all of my tickets – poof, gone! I got my driver’s license back.”

With his license in hand and stellar credit in his back pocket, Anwar worked side-by-side with Ken and Eric to secure a low interest, subsidized car loan. He was approved, and now has a brand new car that provides him with a reliable way to get to work and make a living.

Anwar’s life changed more than he could have imagined in just a few months’ time. But he was still looking toward the future. Using the skills he learned in Rubicon’s Money Management workshop, he created a savings plan and opened a savings account. Ever since, he has been putting away leftover funds at the end of the month.

“I want to buy a home someday. I’m spending a lot on rent. I’d rather pay that money back to myself than throw it away,” he says. “It motivates me to be responsible with my money each month, and save up the 20 percent needed for a down payment. It’s a pride thing – I know it will feel good to own something and I’m willing to work to get there.”

He’s also taking an elective workshop to learn more about finances. “Ken has gotten me interested in saving for retirement. I’d like to learn more about that – but first, I have to save up for a house!”

Anwar is optimistic he’s going to get there. He recently was promoted to be a certified trainer at his workplace, and hopes to continue to rise up the ranks. He’s also taking advantage of every resource Rubicon offers, earning his Hazmat, Occupational Safety and fork lift certifications and licenses.

“I can’t stress enough how grateful I am for Rubicon,” he says. “When I hit rock bottom, I didn’t need a handout. I needed a boost. Rubicon gave me exactly what I need to step out of my comfort zone and change my life.”

What else is next for Anwar?

“Once I buy a house, I’m going to start fostering elderly and disabled animals. I love animals. Absolutely love them.”

Help Rubicon break poverty by donating or explore the full participant journey here.

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#TogetherWeRise

By Jonathan Bash October 27, 2017


Rubicon Programs transforms East Bay communities by equipping people to break the cycle of poverty. 

We believe that no one service is enough to end intergenerational poverty. People are complicated. They can't be reduced to the least common denominator. 

That's why we provide our participants with three years of coaching and opportunities across four core service areas: income, assets, wellness and connections.
 
First, we help our participants get a job and map a long-term career plan. Then, we show them how to grow their savings, build their credit, set a budget and overcome legal barriers. 
 
But we don't stop with these simple economic solutions. 

Physical and emotional health issues, and limited social networks, also keep people in poverty. That's why we offer tailored wellness services and assistance establishing the community networks necessary to build a career, raise a family, and make positive change.

This holistic, flexible approach allows us to end poverty permanently for more than 1,700 people each year. And we all benefit.

Help us build an East Bay without poverty.

Click here to support others like Mario, Angela and John:

"Thanks to Rubicon, I’ve overcome some serious obstacles. All the workshops – and all the coaches – challenged me and helped me grow, allowing me to use my community connections to get a good job." - Mario

"To look at where I am now is a delightful feeling. I was running from my credit for so long, but now I just want to see it grow." - Angela

"I had headaches and didn’t know why. Now, thanks to Rubicon, I know it's hypertension and I’m able to make it better. Rubicon connected me with everything I needed." - John

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Sometimes You Get What You Need: Drummond’s Story

By Jonathan Bash September 1, 2017

Sometimes, you endeavor to accomplish one small goal, and it snowballs into a life-changing event. As the Rolling Stones once said, “you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.” 

In Drummond’s case, he – a Rubicon participant from the first cohort under our new model – got both.  Just one year ago, someone told him that Rubicon could reinstate his suspended license, and help him get his life in order, find a job and build a career.

“But all I heard was that I could get my license. I needed my license back, so I went to Rubicon,” he says. “At first, I sat in the Foundations Workshop with my ears shut, just waiting for the coaches to show me how to fix my situation. But then something amazing happened. I truly listened for the first time in my life. The coaches got to me. And, man, talk about a transformation!”

Before Rubicon, Drummond didn’t really care about the world around him. “I had a lot of street in me, and a lot of the potholes that come with it. I always had to pull to the side to change tires.” One detour resulted in 5 years of incarceration. “It felt like I was roaming with hyenas.”

Things changed. “After a few days with Rubicon, I was striving to be on time every day. I was engaged, asking questions.” He says, “Rubicon’s coaches are like your ol’ grandma. She’ll give you all the love you could want, but if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, she’s not going to defend you. You want your grandma to fight for you, so you do what you’re supposed to do.”

Soon enough, Rubicon brought him on to their team as an ambassador, a transitional employment position for people interested in bolstering their job skills and pursuing careers in social service. “I became Mr. Rubicon – the first point of contact for new participants.”

“That was the first time anybody trusted me with that sort of responsibility. That’s empowerment.” Drummond soon leveraged this new confidence – and job experience – to get a position as a counselor at a shelter for families experiencing homelessness. “I became a caregiver.”

Long term, he wants to continue to give back and care for those who need help. It’s something he learned from his coaches. “When I come through Rubicon’s doors, I get hugs. I get a family. I get encouragement. They do something for people. I want to do something. Paying taxes isn’t enough.”

Drummond is a man who is fueled by hope and, as a result, can’t help but glow with pride. He overflows with enthusiasm for life and for what he now knows is possible when people come together to support each other.

“Society can’t keep putting all of these band aids on all of these minor problems.” Drummond thinks there’s a better approach to solving poverty than what conventional wisdom has prescribed over the last fifty years.

“What you need is a big bandage to cover up the whole cut and lets it heal. Rubicon heals. It brings you back together. It breaks the cycle of poverty. I just don’t understand why Rubicon isn’t everywhere! What they do works.” 

Help us continue to break poverty by donating today.

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Rubicon Programs Partners with Travis Credit Union To Help Contra Costa ‘Crave 2 Save’

By Jonathan Bash August 15, 2017

47 Percent of All Americans Have Less Than $400 in Their Savings Account 

 

RICHMOND, CALIF., AUGUST 15, 2017 … In an effort to bring financial stability to Contra Costa County’s low-income residents, Rubicon Programs, a nonprofit fighting poverty in the East Bay, Sparkpoint Contra Costa and Travis Credit Union have partnered to launch their new “Crave 2 Save” challenge for Contra Costa County residents.

“At Rubicon, our job is to support our community in building financial, social and human capital,” said Jane Fischberg, President and CEO of Rubicon Programs. “You can’t break the cycle of poverty without saving for the unexpected. For many families, one car repair or dental emergency can be the difference between economic stability and debilitating debt.”

A savings account can save much more than money. 47 percent of all Americans have less than $400 in their savings account and are unprepared for life’s emergencies. Without a savings account, many people must turn to high-interest payday advance loans and credit cards for relief. The small debt eventually balloons to be unmanageable thanks to outrageous 450 percent APRs.

“Travis Credit Union exists to create value in the communities we serve and we believe a family’s ability to save for their future is the foundation of financial success,” said Barry Nelson, President and CEO of Travis Credit Union. “Through the Crave 2 Save program with partners like Rubicon we will break the cycle of poverty.”

So what’s the challenge? Eight nonprofits in four counties across the Bay Area will compete to enroll as many people into savings accounts as possible by December 31, 2017. The two nonprofits from the winning county will split a $75,000 prize that will fund each of the organization’s work to end the cycle of poverty.

To earn points for the two nonprofits, Crave 2 Save participants must open a free new Travis Credit Union savings account, mention the Crave2Save Challenge using the tracking code “CCC1,” meet savings targets that add up to $400, and attend a free financial education seminar. All participants will be entered to win a $100 giveaway at their local branch.

For more information on Crave 2 Save, visit www.traviscu.org/crave2save or call Rubicon Programs at 510-412-1725.

Rubicon Programs is a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to transform East Bay communities by equipping people to break the cycle of poverty. The organization serves the people of Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and provides services that help low-income individuals enter the workforce and develop fulfilling lives.

Travis Credit Union, headquartered in Vacaville, California, is a not-for-profit cooperative financial institution serving those who live or work in Alameda, Colusa, Contra Costa, Merced Napa, Placer, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, and Yolo Counties. Currently, Travis Credit Union is the 14th largest credit union in California with more than 189,000 members and more than $2.8 billion in assets. As one of the leading financial institutions in Solano, Contra Costa, Yolo and Merced Counties, Travis Credit Union’s strength lies in its faithful commitment to its members and the community; its solid, secure history; and its long-standing track record of dedicated service.  

CONTACT: Jonathan Bash  |  jonathanb@rubiconprograms.org |  (510) 231-3993  

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