Everyone wants to have a productive, fulfilling life, but often people are kept from it because they never learned important life skills, dropped out of school or broke the law. Even if they realize their mistakes, they can feel like it is too late.
A new Atlantic City program last month showed 38 participants that it’s not too late if a broad private-public partnership works together to lower barriers to their efforts to turn things around.
Nearly all of the graduates of the first HireAC! program had past experience with the criminal justice system — and that alone is typically enough to make getting a job very difficult. But in this case, the vocational and life-skills training they received led directly to job offers and employment for 28 of them so far.
The jobs are in the hospitality industry, and participating employers include Caesars Atlantic City, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Bally’s Atlantic City, Harrah’s Resort, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Tropicana Atlantic City, the Sheraton A.C. Convention Center Hotel and the Tun Tavern.
Others helping with funding and the four-to-eight-week program include the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Unite Here Local 54, and the recovery courts for substance abusers in Atlantic and Cape May counties. Superior Court Assignment Judge Julio Mendez summed up the goal of it all: “A job is, without a doubt, the only social program that works.”
With 40,000 or so men and women in prisons and jails across New Jersey, the need for successful reintegration into society as a law-abiding citizen is obvious. The HireAC! program joins other worthy efforts in tackling this long-term challenge.
Volunteers of America Delaware Valley in 2015 started Atlantic City Safe Return, which has helped hundreds of ex-convicts avoid being among the one-third who wind up back in prison. The program helps with housing, food, substance-abuse treatment and mental health services. It also connects clients with educational and job opportunities.
New Jersey helped in 2016 by cutting in half the time that those who have paid for their crimes must wait to have their records cleared, from 10 to five years. (Those convicted of serious crimes, such as murder or robbery, aren’t eligible, and addicts must first complete court-ordered rehabilitation.)
In 2017, as planning was underway for Stockton University’s city campus and the adjacent South Jersey Gas headquarters, developers Joseph Jingoli & Son and Atlantic City Development Corp. sponsored a free program that trained 15 city residents and got them jobs on those projects. A second round of the program prepared more to work on creating the Hard Rock.
This is how society’s difficulties are overcome and everyone moves forward — little by little negatives are turned into positives, despair into hope.
We hope the current discussions among participants results in the HireAC! program continuing. Turning around lives is a crucial part of turning around Atlantic City.