- Name and official title of the CEO or founder of the company.
Veronica Vargas, Founding Executive Director, Changing Perceptions
- Tell us about your business.
Changing Perceptions is a 501 (c)(3) focused on enabling returning citizens to reach their potential both personally and professionally.
Filed for 501(c)(3) status on November 2015; Pending IRS approval; EIN: 47-5462125. Soft launch date February 1, 2016
OVERVIEW & PURPOSE
Changing Perceptions provides supportive services and job training to the re-entry community—ex-offenders and formerly incarcerated individuals—in Washington, DC. Changing Perceptions is the non-for-profit offshoot of Clean Decisions (www.cleandecisions.com), a successful industrial kitchen cleaning company, started by an ex-offender, that provides training and job opportunities to formerly incarcerated individuals. Our proposed array of therapeutic services and apprenticeship job training programs are designed to prepare these returning citizens for career pathways that will help them advance into the middle class and equip them with life skills that will allow them to be productive members of society.
Similarly to the way an employer would help on-board a new employee, Changing Perceptions provides “life” on-boarding to the re-entry community. The vicious cycle of incarceration and recidivism they experience can only be broken if individuals are provided with meaningful opportunities as they are cast back into society—often with nothing more than $50 dollars and the clothes on their back. Their re-entry is extremely challenging as they are at a developmental disadvantage and experience significant societal and employment barriers. Those who have been part of the prison pipeline since childhood or adolescence have had no chance to establish important family bonds, understand adult relationships, or develop trusting, respectful interactions with authority figures. In addition to often lacking much formal education, they may not have job experience, an understanding of the job search process, or other basic life skills that the general population takes for granted. We know that without any “life” on-boarding, individuals who are re-entering our communities will wander aimlessly, grow frustrated, and likely recidivate.
Our goal is to create a life and career pathway that will break the chronic intergenerational cycle of criminal activity and poverty for those returning from incarceration.
Changing Perceptions offers a six-month relational re-entry program that includes ten hours of support services, work apprenticeship, and twenty hours of work per week through one of our employment partnerships. Random drug testing is also conducted throughout this term.
Program participation is based on mental and emotional preparedness. Each member will go through an interview and vetting process to assure commitment to redirecting their lives and to clearly express program expectations.
A Case Manager will conduct an assessment and help individually tailor and implement a goals plan. The employment counselor will help place the program member in a position with 20 hours of part-time employment, and also work closely with employer to monitor progress.
Employment counselor will conduct check-in with employer on a regular basis to obtain update on member’s job-training experience. In addition, Case Management will meet with each member on a bi-monthly basis to provide support, assure they are abiding by program rules, making progress on their service plan, and meeting their goals.
Work readiness curriculum begins in preparation for outside employment placement. Case Management will work closely with Employment Counselors to help guide job or trade choice inline with member’s personal goals.
Program graduation and outside placement into a full-time, living wage position.
Post Program Support
Graduate and employer follow-ups will be conducted every four months for up to one year.
- Restorative Justice
- Healthy relationships
- Fatherhood and parenting classes
- Anger management
- Health & Wellness
- Mental Health:
- Substance Abuse and Relapse Prevention
- Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous
Academic preparedness classes:
- Educational Services
- Financial Literacy
- Work Readiness
- Legal Services
- Volunteering: 1 – 2 hours per month at a non-profit of their choice
- Pancake Saturday: weekly convening of members and their families to check-in, engage in physical fitness, positive community, and brother/sisterhood
- Outdoor Events
Educational advancement and work apprenticeships are essential to improving employment prospects for the re-entry community. Employers indicate a clear preference for hands-on experience and hands-on or on-the-job training as opposed to just classroom coursework. Our work apprenticeships and educational programs are designed to improve the career pathways and earning potential of these individuals.
Raised Garden Box and Irrigation Training Program
We will provide a four-month training program specializing in building and designing raised bed garden boxes and irrigation installation systems for residences and commercial space.
Glass Cutting Training Program
AM/PM Glass, LLC, leads a four-month glass cutting training program specializing in cutting flat & architectural glass window installation, and window and screen repairs for residential and commercial projects.
HISTORY OF CHANGING PERCEPTIONS
Changing Perceptions was conceived by Will Avila, an ex-offender who was sentenced to an adult prison at the age of 16 years and spent 10 years in-and-out of prison struggling to transition back into the community. Will, like so many other returning citizens experienced first-hand the challenges—and rejection—that came with transitioning back into society and the workforce. Finally, in 2014 he decided to start a for-profit business, Clean Decisions (commercial kitchen cleaning and general labor services.) Will dreamt of helping employ returning citizens—people like him—who longed for an opportunity to prove to society they are worth investing. Clean Decisions has successfully provided full- and part-time employment to over 30 people, and they have a 100% anti-recidivism rate. However, in addition to employment, what the year highlighted was the desperate need for therapeutic and supportive services. Returning citizens not only struggle to find employment, but they also need training and counseling to help them successfully transition back into contributing members of society. Thus emerged Changing Perceptions.
- What makes your company the leader in your industry?
We consider ourselves leaders because we believe that once people have been held accountable for their actions, it is our societal responsibility to help returning citizens successfully transition back into the community. As a taxpayer, it does not make any sense to pay billions of dollars to incarcerate people for a low-level drug offense or those who are non-violent and do not pose a threat to public safety in prison.
The absence of life skills training and job opportunities leave newly released individuals with little chance for hope and sustainable change. Statistics bear this out, as the rates of re-incarceration—or recidivism—are staggering. A recidivism study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics tracked 404,638 prisoners in 30 states after their release from prison in 2005 and found that 56.7% were arrested by the end of their first year of release, 67.8% by the third year, and 76.6% by the fifth year. 
This is a social and economic crisis. In 2008, it was estimated there were between 12 and 14 million ex-offenders of working age (18 – 64) in the U.S. About 1 in 17 adult men of working-age was an ex-prisoner; 1 in 8 an ex-felon. In the District of Columbia, the incarceration statistics for people within the ages of 15-64 are as follow:
Annual Jail Trends:
- Annual jail admissions, 12,566
- Jail usage and average length of stay, 65 days
Average daily population by race:
- Black/African American, 2,038
- Latino, 96
- White, 61
- Asian, 8
- Native American, 0
Being sentenced to prison, and having a felony conviction greatly lowers ex-offenders’ prospects in the labor market. A rise in the ex-offender population translates into a loss of economic output, wasted human potential, and the breakdown of communities. In the District of Columbia, there are approximately 4,000 – 6,000 people returning annually from either DC jail or federal prisons from around the country. Neglect results in recidivism, which translates into a huge financial burden shouldered by DC residents.
In 2014, the average fiscal year cost of incarceration and confinement were:
- Federal inmates $83.89 per day
- Residential Re-entry Center confinement $79.45 per day
REFRAMING THE ISSUE
The re-entry community is highly stigmatized because few understand the root causes that lead to incarceration. These issues range from family and community dysfunction to poverty to lack of educational opportunities to a judicial system that has been especially harsh in its penalties for minor offenses such as the possession of marijuana. These individuals are not all fundamentally “bad” people; they have incredible potential, and with the proper set of opportunities and services the vicious cycle of incarceration and re-incarceration can be broken, saving tax-payers millions of dollars a year trying to “lock away” a problem, and instead creating more just and safe communities. Changing Perceptions aims to do just that—change the perceptions that society has of the re-entry community, and demonstrating that with a modest investment of time and resources, these individuals can become productive, tax-paying, law abiding, contributing members of our society.
- What contributions have you made towards the world?
Changing Perceptions believes that ignoring the issue does not address it. Our work will help returning citizens become contributing members of society, save taxpayers money, and create safer and healthier communities in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.
Changing Perceptions is part of a movement. We are built on a successful model—the internationally recognized Homeboy Industries (www.homeboyindustries.org), Los Angeles, CA. Verónica Vargas, Executive Director, brings over 10 years of executive leadership experience from her work at the nation’s largest gang intervention and re-entry non-profit organization, Homeboy Industries (HBI).
- Who or what has influenced you?
See question 4.
Veronica Vargas is deeply influenced and considers herself a student of Fr. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J., Founder & Executive Director, Homeboy Industries.
- What key qualities do they look for in your team?
I believe in train-the-trainer model, so half of my team consists of returning citizens who are helping to mentor and coach those in transition. In addition, I look for program experts who understand and successfully work with this marginalized community.
- Words of advice for others growing their business?
Stay true to your mission. Don’t be a money chaser because it forces your mission to morph and you’ll lose your integrity.
Edited by Juan Velez, PR Agent