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Workshop helps ex-cons enter job market

By Ryan Cornell

WINCHESTER -- A monthly workshop at the Valley Workforce Center helps convicted felons find jobs once they have been released.

Offered through ResCare Workforce Services and funded through the Workforce Investment Act, "Fresh Start: Job Tips For Ex-Offenders" teaches participants about the Federal Bonding Program, Work Opportunity Tax Credit and how to fill out job applications without revealing too much.

ResCare workshop facilitator Samantha Greenfield, who leads the sessions, said she created the program about four years ago when she realized there weren't many places these people could turn to.

"We get folks that come up and say they're having trouble in today's job market because of convictions," she said. "And there wasn't a lot of helpful information around."

She said employers who hire ex-offenders are eligible for certain incentives, such as fidelity bonds.

These bonds serve as a free insurance program for at-risk, hard-to-place job seekers, Greenfield explained, and protect up to $5,000 against theft, larceny, forgery and embezzlement for the first six months. After six months, companies can decide to purchase the insurance policy.

"Criminal records become less of a concern to employers if they know that they are protected from loss of money or property due to theft," she said.

A letter of bondability, which states that an applicant is covered by the federal program, is used to mitigate the risk and helps give ex-convicts a shot on restarting their career path.

Greenfield said people should not mention incarceration in their resume or cover letter, and can include information about their bondability when asked about prior convictions on an application.

Another incentive ex-convicts can take advantage of is a Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which also covers veterans and food stamp recipients and reduces an employer's cost of doing business up to $9,600.

"A lot of employers don't even know this is out there," she said.

She compared the incentives to soda cans.

"Most people want the name brand, tried-and-true, not the one in generic packaging," she said. "Putting it in an attractive package, with the resume and [letter of] bondability, it's the same thing."

Diane, an ex-convict who was attending Friday's workshop, said she was motivated by the lessons and plans to attend a class at the workforce center on Monday about building a resume.

"What I'm getting is a lot of information on the different websites and business cards," she said. "I'm learning how to sell myself."

The Valley Workforce Center is located at 411 N. Cameron Street in Winchester. The next Fresh Start workshop is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 22.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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