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Justice-Involved Youth Get A Fresh Start Through GoodPath Program

*Editor’s Note: For privacy reasons, participants’ names were changed and their faces were blurred in photos

Four participants in Goodwill’s inaugural Goodpath program —which provides a career pathway aimed at reducing recidivism among youth–graduated on May 9.

Goodpath launched in November 2017 as a 12-week workforce development program for offenders ages 16 to 20 who were recently released from a juvenile corrections facility and are on parole or probation. The program’s objective is to equip those youths with job readiness skills and employment opportunities so they can enter, stay and progress in the workforce.

Data from the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice’s resource guide for 2016 shows 51.5% of juvenile offenders are re-arrested within 12 months.

“When these graduates started the program, they were broken,” said Natasha Winfree, Goodwill’s re-entry program manager. “Imagine being a 16-year old who has only heard he was a failure in life. We created Goodpath to set a tone of success and self-esteem from day one. I’m glad to see it works,” said Winfree.

Program trainers, managers, and parole and probation officers were on hand for the graduation ceremony at Goodwill’s Hampton Support Center. Graduates received certificates of completion, and each one delivered an elevator speech on their career interests and how they planned to reach their professional goals.

“I am so proud of our graduates,” said Shanta Miller, a Goodwill employment skills trainer who has more than 15 years of experience working in the juvenile justice and behavioral health systems. “I met the students on day one and witnessed their transformation over 12 weeks. I was emotional during the ceremony, especially when I gave *Paul Graham his certificate because I knew what he had overcome,” she recalled.

When Graham started Goodpath, he faced a difficult future and several criminal charges. “This program taught me I am very smart when I put my mind to things,” he said. Since completing the program, he made his school’s honor roll for the first time, received a recommendation from the Hampton Mayor’s Office for a summer work program, met with an Army recruiter and decided to enlist in the military. He is no longer facing criminal charges.

Throughout the program, the students received paid on-the-job training at Goodwill’s retail store in Hampton. “They learned how to be accountable, how to show up for work on time and how to effectively communicate with other people,” said Miller.

“A lot of these kids don’t have hope or a support system when they start Goodpath. Our program is different because we meet the kids where they are and pull them up from there. We help build their character and self-esteem,” she added.

Miller works hand-in-hand with Fred Henry, a Goodwill trainer who facilitated the classroom education portion of the program at the Hampton Community Employment Center. Henry spent more than 30 years in the private and public education systems, serving as a job specialist for programs geared towards teens with barriers to employment.

“Goodpath gives these kids critical life skills they’ve never learned before,” said Henry. Among those skills were resume writing, job search, digital literacy and financial health skills. “Once they understand these foundational pieces, they gain a deeper appreciation for work,” he said. Henry also helped the students understand apartment lease agreements, income tax forms and the process of buying a car.

The program led *Ryan Washington to pursue a career as a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician.

“Before, I had an attitude that I had everything set when I turn 18 years old. The program taught me about money and how to save and manage better,” he said. Washington is studying for his general equivalency diploma (GED) and plans to go to college.

“Before the program, I was shy and now I’m not,” said *Lauren Murphy. Since completing the program, she turned her interest in medicine to a career goal of becoming a phlebotomist.

*James Roberts is on his way to becoming a barber, enrolling in a cosmetology school in Hampton. “The program showed me that I get bored very easily, so I like hands-on work,” he said.

Henry also presented the ceremony’s keynote speech. Before leaving the podium, he gave each graduate a mirror. “I asked them, ‘Do you like what you see?’ Many of these students hadn’t seen themselves smile in a long time. That was a great moment,” Henry said.

Each graduate also received a professional vinyl bag, physical and digital copies of their resumes and a notebook.

Although four students successfully completed the program, five students who started it did not. During the program, they re-offended and returned to a juvenile corrections facility. “We realize this is an intense experience for these kids,” said Winfree. “Breaking the cycle of recidivism is difficult, but we supported the students and let them know they would have a chance to return,” she added.

Goodwill provides graduates with a year of post-program job development support and they are encouraged to attend monthly alumni group meetings. “The same students who showed up late to class and wouldn’t look teachers in the eye are now on their way to college or the military,” said Winfree.

A new group of students are now enrolled in Goodpath, and Winfree hopes all of them will be able to complete the program. “We want the at-risk youth population we serve to know that your past does not have to determine your future. This program can give you the tools to build your future and write a new chapter to your life story,” she said.