INDIANAPOLIS — COVID-19 has made it difficult for many Hoosiers who may have lost their job during the pandemic. Add a felony to your resume and re-entering the workforce can feel impossible.
That is where PACE steps in, they are Public Advocates in Community Re-Entry. PACE is one of many organizations that have had to shift their services because of the coronavirus. They are now conducting focused one-on-one sessions virtually to get ex-offenders back into the workforce.
"I got in trouble and got a felony like later in life," Malissa Sims, a client at PACE, said. "Since then I got things together, I got in a recovery program, I have been referred to PACE since then. It is getting your life back on track from stumbling and going through some things."
Sims was furloughed from her laundry attendant job at a downtown Indianapolis hotel when the pandemic hit. That is also right when she was referred to PACE.
LEARN MORE | PACE Indy
"This has been the only outreach of comfort in any way that I have been able to get knowing that okay yes, these people care," Sims said.
Advancing Your Career program, or AYC, at PACE is the first step in the organization's pre-employment program. Behind those calls are Yvonne Smith, the director of employment services.
"The people that we serve are always the underdogs, they are the ones who are always underserved and we know this," Smith said.
Smith works with clients like Sims on career skills, from presentation to hard and soft skills, employment barriers, job search techniques, job applications, resume building, interviewing tips, federal bonding and how to keep a job once it is obtained.
"The services we offer, clients don't get anywhere else," Smith said. "Like being able to access a computer, get help with a resume, get a job, go to a safe space to take a nap or if they want to just watch TV and not be threatened by using, we have those spaces available. That is who we are, that is what we do."
PACE never closed their doors during the pandemic but they did adjust to a virtual service format which has made their tools more accessible to their clients.
"We are still doing what we have always done," Smith said. "It is just that we are just taking a little bit of the lemon and have made PACE lemonade. Being virtual may actually be a benefit to us in the future. Maybe for people who don't have transportation to get to us, maybe we can set up Zoom or Teams or do some of the things that we offer."
Levels of unemployment are highest within the first two years of release and getting Hoosiers to re-enter the workforce after incarceration is one of the most important services PACE offers. PACE's Employer Retention Coach, Fred Briggerman says it is a win-win for their clients and the Indianapolis community.
"If you look at the recidivism rate if you look at the rate for people who have been incarcerated and have come out and are re-incarcerated and I think in Marion County it has been around 35, 40 percent," Briggerman said. "If they go through the PACE program and we can get them placed with a job, we can reduce that recidivism rate to less than five percent."
Getting these Hoosiers, like Sims, hired will help the community as a whole rebound into our new normal.
"Accessing this type of help, a lot of people don't know about it, about any help that is out there. And they are able to connect us to the people that are there," Sims said. "Without them, I am telling you, I don't know. I really don't know where I would be right now."
PACE needs monetary donations to help with access to computers to continue their virtual services. They also need donations for transportation and work essentials for their clients who land a job.