NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN)–News 2 Gives Back and Trevecca Nazarene University are honoring Project Return as our Hometown Hero for the Month of February. Project Return provides vital services helping people transition back to society after leaving prison.
The non-profit provides everything from job training, to resume building as well as food and transportation to harbor a successful transition. Last year alone, Project Return saw 80% of its participants land a full time job while having a recidivism rate four times lower than the national average.
In 2020, Alex Davila was released after serving 23 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
“Not only did I get released out of prison but got released in the middle of the pandemic. And it was like many places were closed, many places were not willing to give me a chance. It was frustrating because at that time i was applying for jobs everywhere, going to multiple interviews and i was not getting past the background question,” said Alex Davila.
That changed when Alex walked into Project Return in Nashville.
“Once I met the people and they didn’t talk down to me and they understood where I was coming from it just meant the world,” Davila said.
The non-profit was founded in 1979 by Reverends Bill Barnes and Don Beisswenger as they saw the overwhelming obstacles facing people leaving prison.
“Our mission, our goal is to work with individuals who are recently released from incarceration to provide employment opportunities and wrap around services, so they not only get a job, but they maintain a job and are able to grow into their employment,” said Elizabeth Hayes the Interim Chief Executive Officer.
Hayes said as soon as somebody is released from prison, they can join Project Return and start taking classes and prepare getting back into the workforce. Once job readiness classes are completed, students are eligible for additional services and help them get their IDs.
“That’s a process that we start while somebody is going through class. We will help you create your resume. We will help you get your birth certificate, any of those documents that you need to get employment. We will also help you with medical, dental exams, being able to provide that as we know your medical health also impacts your performance, initial quality of life,” said Hayes.
Participants can even take courses like this one on construction readiness. Project Return also provides things like clothing and shoes for a job interview or a new job, tools to do that job to a bus pass to get them to work.
“Because when you go to work it’s not just about showing up, but it’s about showing up prepared as well,” said Hayes.
Job coaching continues even after someone is employed to help them grow in their job.
Project Return also has its own landscaping business that also offers property maintenance, another way for participants to be employed and gain experience. Plus, the project partners with employers like Builder Supply Source in Madison who are looking for good employees.
“We’ve been partnering with project return for about four years and the people that we get are very motivated, they’re looking for a second chance, so they’re very hard workers, they’re there on time, they’re very dependable, so it’s been a great experience for us,” said Chris Ferrell, Builder Supply Source General Manager.
In 2022, Project Return’s goal was to get 75 percent of those they serve in Nashville full time employment. Project return hit 80-percent.
Staff also wanted to keep participants from returning to prison. Project Return’s recidivism rate was only 12.5 percent when the national average exceeds fifty percent.
“Project Return is a hero in our community because they’re taking people who need an opportunity to get back into civilization and get back to work and providing them a path to do so. They reach out to employers like myself to get employees that we need and they’re giving guys a second chance,” said Ferrell.
As for Alex, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree and was hired at Project Return, working his way up to education coordinator.
“It feels good to be able to inspire people and then I sit here and watch their progress, them getting a job, or going back to school, and it’s very satisfying,” said Davila. “Project Return is a hero to our community because we don’t only just talk about it. We use inspirational words of course but we also act, and you can’t be heroic without actions.”
So, we Honor Project return as our News 2 Gives Back Hometown Hero for the month of February, presented by Trevecca Nazarene University, for its dedication to provide people returning to the community after incarceration the resources and services needed to gain employment and rebuild their lives.
If you’d like to partner with Project Return or donate to the non-profit visit projectreturninc.org