A Fresh Start
Constructing Futures Program Helps Individuals Trying To Secure Employment After Incarceration
DECEMBER 19, 2016 - jacksongov.org (Also responsible for photographs)
Zach Godsy speaks candidly about his past. He used drugs, stole cars and committed other thefts. And he went to prison.
“I paid the price,” says Godsy. “Prison was almost a blessing. It got me away from drugs. Having bills to pay was my excuse for stealing things. That and using drugs…They’re a part of my story.”
But only a part. At 33, the Kansas City man realizes his life’s story is far from complete. Since being released from prison in August, he has started writing the next chapter: A Fresh Start. It is very much a work in progress, not unlike the vacant house — located not far from Ivanhoe Park in Kansas City — that Godsy is helping renovate as part of Jackson County’s Constructing Futures program.
The innovative program addresses three key issues: 1) homelessness, 2) the blight vacant houses can be on a neighborhood and 3) the need to provide individuals like Godsy an opportunity to acquire marketable job skills. As Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr., points out, “Constructing Futures does more than remodel houses. It helps repair lives.”
When completed, houses remodeled through Constructing Futures are presented to families who’ve struggled with being homeless. From the program’s start seven years ago, clients from Connections To Success have done the work necessary to transform each long-neglected abandoned house back into a home ready for a family. Often times the finishing touch will be a WELCOME mat placed outside the front door.
Connections To Success provides training and other support services to individuals who are unemployed, underemployed or seeking to secure steady employment after being incarcerated. Godsy jumped at the chance to utilize the non-profit organization’s services.
Foreman Will Hansaker (L) and Stanley Willoughby install new attic windows in the latest Constructing Futures house.
Initially, Godsy did janitorial work at the local Connections To Success office. Then he was given the opportunity to acquire construction skills through hands-on training refurbishing the house on Park Avenue, which is due to be completed within the first few weeks of 2017.
“I’ve been employed since I was released,” says Godsy. “I’m real happy about that.”
Employment The Most Important Factor
Employment — more than mental health, substance abuse or education — is the single most important factor regarding recidivism in Missouri. According to the State Department of Corrections, 72 percent of individuals unable to secure full-time employment upon being released from prison are re-incarcerated within two years. Meanwhile, only one in four who do find full-time jobs are back in prison inside of two years.
"Getting a job and keeping that job are simply key to staying out of prison," says Connections To Success Regional Executive Director Brandi Jahnke.
In addition to helping its clients get a job, Connections To Success also helps them — in Jahnke's words — "navigate life challenges that can impact keeping the job." The organization's Pathways to Success program focuses on both career and personal development training. Clients are paired with Life Transformation coaches to assist with issues related to health care, housing, transportation, family relationships and more.
Volunteers also serve as mentors to Connections To Success clients.
"In helping their clients improve their quality of life, Connections To Success is serving our entire community," County Executive White said.
Ask Stanley Willoughby what his main objectives have been since being released from prison this fall and he is blunt: “Staying out of trouble and being a better person.” He spent nine years behind bars.
Now 28, Willoughby is determined to make the most of the opportunities Connections To Success presents to him — like working on the Park Avenue Constructing Futures house. He’s installed new windows, laid insulation in the attic, helped put up new siding and endured the flea bites the remodeling crew suffered before bug-bombing the house.
He feels doubly-blessed for the experience. He’s acquired new skills and knows someday soon a family once touched by homelessness will be moving into this house.
“This has been a blessing, getting to work on this house,” says Willoughby. “And we’ll be passing this blessing along to the family that gets to live here.”
Willoughby’s long-term goal is to be a long-haul truck driver, while Godsy hopes to enroll in a vocational information technology program. Although neither plans to make construction his permanent job, both Willoughby and Godsy believe being a part of Constructing Futures will help brighten their futures.
Willoughby stresses, “It’s just great being part of something real.”
The four-man crew Connections To Success assigned to this Constructing Futures project has been receiving on-the-job training from Will Hansaker. He helped put the finishing touches on the Constructing Futures house given away last year. He is seeing the Park Avenue house through “from start to finish” as the foreman for Morgan Jacobs Construction.
“All four guys working on this house are good workers,” says Hansaker. “They’re all eager to learn; they’re all nice guys. This has been an awesome experience; this is an awesome program."
Knowing the house will eventually be given to a worthy family is a source of pride for everyone involved, he continues. The pride is showing in the quality of work being done.
“We might be going overboard,” Hansaker says, “in trying to make everything perfect.”
Taking a break from using a caulking gun on one of the new windows, he recalls first setting foot inside the vacant house. What a mess!
“I took some ‘before’ pictures of this house with my phone.” Godsy pauses and looks at a wall he helped paint. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but when we’re done, I’m going to take some ‘after’ photos. I’ll be able look at those photos and say, ‘I was a part of making this happen.’”
Zach Godsy (L) and Stanley Willoughby are part of a four-man crew renovating the latest Constructing Futures house.