Orange County Corrections Department, Valencia Community College, SunTrust and Goodwill Industries hosted what has become a very special event for a very unique population – a commencement ceremony. It was the eighth graduating class to be produced through the Orange County Jail’s Phoenix Construction Program.
And it could’t have happened with Linda Brooks.
“The goal is that inmates leave the jail in a better state than when they came here,” Brooks said. “This program offers new hope and confidence that they can succeed as law-abiding citizens when they return to the community.”
The construction program, which was first launched in 2016, has since produced 151 graduates. It’s just one of several re-entry programs offered through the jail to help reduce the likelihood of re-offense, by equipping inmates with the right tools to make them more valuable to the workforce once they are released. Upon the completion of their sentence, inmates not only leave with their debt repaid to society but also several new valuable certifications and the work experience to make them competitive candidates for jobs in the construction industry.
To date, of the 151 students, 85 have secured employment with 69 now working in the field of construction. And the program is not just reserved for men, but 14 women have also successfully graduated.
The program operates in partnership with Valencia College and Goodwill Industries. Valencia College provides the tools and equipment, and facilitates the course curriculum, while Goodwill provides help in securing employment, as well as follow-up after the inmate is released from jail. But the program couldn’t be successful without employment partners in the construction industry such as the I-4 Ultimate Construction Project in concert with companies like Lane Construction and Skanska.
The class assignments also include the completion of a “community betterment project” as a means of giving back. Inmates have constructed picnic tables for a homeless drop-in center, handicapped accessible tables for a senior living facility, bookshelves for the inmate library and chairs for the Faine House, an organization that provides short-term housing to teens transitioning out of the foster care system.
While the journey that brought these students to graduation day was not the ideal path, it is the start of a new direction for many and the hope that the circumstances which led them to the jail, will not be repeated.
In addition to the construction program, the Orange County Jail also offers culinary training, along with several faith-based initiatives, parenting programs, substance abuse counseling, sexual trauma programs, GED attainment and other literacy resources. Proof that for those inmates that want to make a change in the direction of their life, with a little help and hard work, all things may be possible.