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Constructing Futures

Posted on: December 11, 2014

Jackson County Program Teaches Ex-Offenders Job Skills

Connections To Success

With his knee pads and stocking cap, Ter-Rance Yancey looks the part of the construction worker he is becoming. 

On the first Monday in December, Yancey was helping put the finishing touches on a home in the Ivanhoe Neighborhood that Jackson County’s Constructing Futures program will turn over to a needy family this holiday season. But the program does more than simply give homes to families that have struggled to maintain adequate housing. It helps people like Yancey with job training through the Connections to Success program, and it helps the Ivanhoe neighborhood by transforming blighted buildings. Call it a win-win-win.

"We are not only changing the circumstances of one family through providing them a new home, just in time for the holidays," said Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, "we are also giving former offenders an opportunity to rejoin the community, with real employable job skills. And Constructing Futures benefits the entire neighborhood through fixing up what was a vacant house." 

This will be the sixth home that the county's Constructing Futures has provided to a needy family in the past six years. The house was donated by Habitat for Humanity Kansas City. Using funds from its Housing Resource Commission and COMBAT Anti-Drug Tax, the county obtains vacant homes and transforms them with the help of workers provided by Connections to Success and supplies (such as appliances) donated by private partners. 

The program addresses the crime problem by fixing up vacant homes, which are often the focus for criminal activity, and by helping former offenders with job-training skills. Clients of Connections to Success, a non-profit organization that has offices in St. Louis and Kansas City, have one-third the rate of recidivism (statistics show 14 percent), as compared to those who don't complete such a program. 

Vancito Hendricks, a job developer with Connections to Success, said the program wouldn’t work without community-minded companies like Morgan Jacobs General Contracting of Sugar Creek, Missouri, which has worked with Constructing Futures on the past several homes. It employs ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society and passed background checks by paying them to work on the rehab projects and training them on the job in skills like brick laying, concrete pouring and carpentry. Oftentimes, once the project is completed, Morgan Jacobs hires the trainees for regular jobs. 

"Having a company willing to take a chance is huge," Hendricks said. 

Yancey certainly appreciates it. "This sure beats that," he said, referring to prison. 

Connections to Success first helped Yancey find a job driving a forklift, but that company didn't bring him on full time at the end of his training period. So he switched to construction with Morgan Jacobs. "I like this better," he said. "You get a chance to learn new skills." 

Yancey has also enrolled at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he is taking such courses as computer science and art history. Another man rehabbing the house, Joshua Hughes, said he was doing warehouse work and cooking at a fast-food restaurant while he "walked down" his parole. He, too, likes construction better than his previous jobs, and he, too, is enrolling in college courses, in his case at Metropolitan Community Colleges next semester. 

"We take a holistic approach to working with the disadvantaged," Hendricks said. "Whatever keeps them from moving forward, we try to address, whether that is housing, transportation, child support or needing glasses. The ultimate goal is to help the individual become independent."

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