RENEW presentation

Members of the Leadership Bismarck-Mandan RENEW project present their work to Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce members Wednesday. RENEW would create a booklet to direct those with a criminal record to potential places of employment.

National research has shown that most employers are reluctant to hire applicants with criminal records but one group in Bismarck-Mandan is aiming to give those people a place to start.

RENEW is a project by members of this year’s Leadership Bismarck-Mandan class at the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce. The project is creating a guide booklet for those recently released from incarceration and is partnering with Ministry on the Margins to distribute it.

The booklet would serve as a tool to solve two problems: helping those with a criminal history find work and giving an untapped workforce to those employers willing to look past a criminal record.

RENEW project member Leslie Pearcy said the North Dakota Department of Corrections released 1,389 people from custody last year. In Burleigh and Morton counties, there are more than 2,000 open jobs, quite a few of them in the retail, hospitality and food service industries.

“These are gaps that can be filled,” said project member Melissa Yackley, as long as employers can consider the person over the criminal label and be open to interviewing them.

Many of those attending the RENEW presentation were excited to hear that the booklet will come with a list of employers willing to hire those with a criminal record. Some of those employers include Dan’s Supermarket, Knife River, McDonald’s, Menards, Northwest Contracting, Open Road Honda, Panera, the Ramkota Hotel and Runnings.

“It’s not a guarantee (of a job), but it’s a starting point,” Yackley said.

Project members said there were also other companies that did not wish to be published or that will consider those with a criminal record except for certain crimes. That extended list will be given to Ministry on the Margins, so when the organization has a client that may qualify for a job with those other employers, that client can be referred.

The project members also said there are many services available in the community, such as counseling, housing, transportation, food pantries and job interview training, but the organizations that provide those services may not always work together. The booklet puts all of the information in one place.

The 24-page booklet also includes a sample application page, which users can take with them to help track work history and other information needed when filling out job applications; a budget worksheet to manage finances after getting a job; bus fare and scheduling information, including information about the Guaranteed Ride taxi voucher program for if they work a late shift after the buses stop running; and a weekly schedule of soup kitchens and food pantries.

In about three weeks, the project members will give 200 paper copies and a digital copy of the booklet to Ministry on the Margins. The group is also looking for other partners willing to distribute the material.

The project members said the partnership with Ministry on the Margins works well because it guarantees those people receiving the booklet are also receiving counseling and have a support system. Ministry on the Margins also has the benefit of being in contact with many of its clients who are still incarcerated, so the relationship is built before the client is released.

The team is also working with the Central Dakota Human Resource Association to help spread news of the project’s progress and results, said team member Jason Sutheimer. CDHRA has 200 member companies that could benefit from the project.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com