LUMBERTON — Starting your own business is often the best option for ex-offenders. That was the central message in a recent seminar titled, “Making it Happen: Success Beyond the Box,” at the Robeson County Department of Social Services.
The summit, which was organized by Lumber River Workforce Development and the Center for Community Action, focused on strategies and available resources to help former offenders achieve their career goals.
Robert Lewis shared his personal story of overcoming the many challenges he faced while serving 19 years in prison.
Lewis earned his GED while incarcerated through Inmates to Entrepreneurs, an outreach program that helps inmates reintegrate into society and into the workforce. After receiving his GED, Lewis completed a bachelor’s degree to improve his job prospects as a “legally challenged” individual.
A.J. Ware, executive director of Inmates to Entrepreneurs, said the program “helps individuals through the inherent challenges of reintegrating into society and the workforce by providing a combination of educational seminars on entrepreneurship and one-on-one mentoring.”
More than 50 people attended the event, including area case managers, counselors, former offenders, and the friends and family members of those with “unfavorable backgrounds” — a term preferred by Rep. Garland Pierce, who also participated.
The morning began with presentations from Dennis Gaddy, executive director of the Community Success Initiative, and Victor Hinnet, Regional Former Offender Specialist.
Gaddy highlighted legislative progress at the state level, while Hinnet touched on the topics of federal bonding and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for employers that hired ex-offenders.
A tax credit is offered to employers for hiring individuals from certain target groups who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment.
Ware engaged the audience with questions and scenarios throughout his crash course lecture of starting and running your own business — reinforcing practical advice with real-world examples at each point. Although he took time to address the basics of marketing, sales, and finance, Ware placed emphasis on customer service and valuation, the process of estimating how much something is worth.
Robert Macy, the project coordinator for Green Construction at Lumber River Workforce Development, stressed the importance of next steps and of follow through.