Tulsa's One-Stop Center helps former inmates find a job
BY MIKE AVERILL World Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26, 2013
1/26/13 at 8:11 AM
As Aaron Mitchell was finishing up his 10-month prison sentence for possession of marijuana, he knew he needed to do something to change.
Because he's a father, the most important task was finding a job. Yet with a felony on his record, he knew that would be difficult.
He needed a plan but didn't know where to begin.
"I was asked by my parents what my plan was after I got out," he said. "How can I figure that? I'm in a whole other world. I could not formulate a plan while I was in prison. I had to actually get out to start formulating a plan."
That's why he turned to Tulsa Reentry One-Stop Center, a new program that provides employment and training services to men and women returning to Tulsa from prison.
The center, at 533 E. 36th St. North, has a peer support specialist with a history of incarceration, mentors, a transition coordinator and job coaches who work with the clients on job searching skills, applications and resumés, interview skills and job retention.
Potential clients go through an employment assessment and develop an employment training plan as well as a case management assessment.
They also develop a plan where they work through barriers and challenges that will prevent them from getting and keeping a job, said program manager Dolores Verbonitz.
They attend a weeklong work readiness course, weekly mentoring sessions and a re-entry 101 class that is taught by the peer support specialist.
"It kind of educates them on these are the kinds of things you're going to face and these are the best ways to handle it," Verbonitz said.
The center is funded by a $1 million federal grant from the Department of Labor and has support from the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
All of the employees except Verbonitz and a secretary come from other agencies.
The Department of Corrections provides the funding for two staff members.
The employment specialists come from Workforce Tulsa, the Urban League provides the mentoring coordinator, and the case managers come from Counseling and Recovery Services.
"The reason we do that is because we want to go to the experts in that particular field," Verbonitz said.
"They also bring a wealth of resources."
Since opening in mid-October, the center has 60 clients in various stages of the program. The goal is to have about 170 participants a year.
"I think this is a good program," Mitchell said. "I think we need more things like this. I was able to get help from my family. Without it, I think it would have been a lot harder.
"I've been pretty lucky, considering."
Verbonitz said many of the clients come in without any family support.
"Sometimes they show up with a bus ticket and $50. That's it," she said. "They've burnt their family out. Aaron was one of the lucky ones."
This is the second time Mitchell has had to start life over after a prison sentence - eight years ago he served a six-year sentence - and he knows the difficulties that await those looking to move on in life.
"If you could step out into a job, it wouldn't be that big of a deal because you could get a place and a car and just pay your payments," he said. "But you've got that dry spell there."
Even with help, it hasn't been easy for Mitchell. He got out of prison in October and just recently found full-time employment.
"I feel there's a long process of mental recovery; just being back in reality," he said.
"Being in prison, it changes your whole mindset into one that's completely different. It's a process to change back into a normal mindset and be OK.
"It's something real that people don't understand."
Original Print Headline: Support to start over
Mike Averill 918-581-8489
Aaron Mitchell plays catch with his son Gabriel, 8, at his parents' home in Broken Arrow. Mitchell found employment after prison through the One-Stop Center, a new program that helps felons gain employment after prison. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Aaron Mitchell watches as his son Gabriel (left) plays with their dog, Chase, while his other son Cale, 12, plays video games at his parents' home in Broken Arrow. Mitchell got out of prison in October and just recently found full-time employment. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World