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DOC Partner Helps Formerly Incarcerated People Find Work

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

By Robert Johnson Department of Corrections (DOC)

(Video Credit: Robert Johnson and Danielle Jimenez)

Something special is happening in a quiet building in the industrial Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.

That is the home of Weld Works, a peer-led nonprofit that helps justice-involved people earn a paycheck. The organization finds temporary work — in jobs that pay at least $20 an hour — with the goal of it turning into a full-time job. Many of the 47 employers Weld works with are in construction, but they also connect people with maintenance, warehouse and manufacturing jobs.

The subsidiary of Weld Seattle began offering services in June 2019 and through April has helped nearly 400 people get work. Director Jay Pershing created the program after working in the private sector because he saw a need while mentoring fellow formerly incarcerated people.

“The motivation was I am formerly incarcerated, twice,” he said. “Coming out of incarceration I faced barriers that are commonly known to employment. While I was working in the private sector, I was already doing some of the things we’re doing now. I was helping people with resumes, interviewing skills, I was going to job fairs through another nonprofit. Being a mentor and a sponsor is something that I do freely, and I really felt like I could have an impact on the community by helping people, by providing opportunities for employment.”

Peer support is a key aspect of Weld Works, and every member of the eight-person staff has been incarcerated.

“That’s Weld’s secret sauce — everybody on staff has lived experience,” Pershing said. “You can see by the end of orientation the hope in people’s eyes. You can see that there’s a trust there, that these are my people. I wish I had a mentor in my life to help me in times of anxiety or when I’m being overwhelmed or coming up against some walls.”

The Department of Corrections (DOC) has partnered with Weld to help formerly incarcerated people find work and housing. Weld is seeking a grant to that would enable the organization to increase the number of people it can assist each month from about 60 to 100.

“What I noticed is they really meet people where they’re at,” said DOC Reentry Division Assistant Secretary Danielle Armbruster. “They’re very thoughtful and work with each individual specifically to meet their needs, but then they also learn how they can work in a group setting.”

Weld Works staff have been to Reentry Centers to speak with residents and staff, but Armbruster said she would like to see the partnership grow.

“I’d really like to see it expand into our prison facilities so that we’re helping individuals start to prepare as soon as possible so they’re ready they minute they walk out the door,” she said.

During an orientation in April, Weld Life Coach and Mentor Bishop Ivey Gaines held an engaging information session in which he told the 10 attendees how the program works and what is expected of each participant.

“Our mission is you,” he told the group. “The entire staff has experience with the barriers and challenges you will face. We’re here because somewhere inside you, you’re looking for a change.”

Gaines, who was released in March 2021 after 18 years of incarceration, takes great joy in helping others find a new place in life. “It is the most beautiful thing in the world when a concept that the person receives for the first time, when they can make the distinction between where they are presently and that vision of where they want to be and the concept kind of comes together for them, that moment, that space in time when they actually get it,” he said.

Weld Works also offers classes in life skills and digital literacy because many newly released people may never have used a smartphone or set up an email account.

“People getting out really need to be handheld in learning technology,” said Brian Brown Sr., Weld Works’ staffing coordinator and mentor.

Although Weld Works focuses on life coaching, mentoring and assistance with getting employment and other vital services, Pershing’s mission is fairly simple.

“Really, what we’re trying to create here is a community and a place where people can get restarted,” he said. “We don’t care what’s happened up to this point, you’re here now and we’re going to try to get you back on a solid path to meet your goals and have the life you want to live.”

That mission is vital to the success of people transitioning into the community, especially because organizations such as Weld Works fill gaps that DOC cannot after a person is released.

“Nonprofits in the community are imperative,” Armbruster said. “The department can’t do the work by itself. We can’t help individuals continually when they’re transitioning out into the community, so we need to partner with those community nonprofits to make sure that all the resources are met for an individual.”