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Milwaukee nonprofit helps equip felons fresh out of prison with lifelong skills, work

Posted at 12:01 PM, Nov 30, 2020

MILWAUKEE — Northcott Neighborhood House is helping men and women who are fresh out of prison develop job skills by connecting them to construction projects in the City of Milwaukee.

The nonprofit partners with developers and community resources to contract work for people who they then hire and train to complete jobs.

This year, roughly 50 houses are being refurbished or built through the Milwaukee Builds program, and over the past decade, the executive director of Northcott Neighborhood House, Tony Kearney, says more than 600 homes have been worked on.

The homes, often foreclosed eyesores in the neighborhoods they sit in, are given a second chance to become a "home" again, and the people who work on them are grateful for a second chance too.

"I had some drug charges. It was a while ago. I only did two years," said Conelius Sims, who has been out of prison since 2012 and is now a Milwaukee Builds crew member. He credits the program with keeping him off of the streets.

"I’ve been embraced and been comfortable working here so it’s just been a great program, especially for people who are coming from situations like that," said Sims.

The program helps the men and women involved obtain work and find a sense of pride in the community. Many of those who get involved struggle to find work after getting out of jail.

"Right now, about 80 percent of the people in our program are former felons. And, they went from tax burden to taxpayer," said Kearney. "A lot of these guys helped tear down the community. They sold drugs and robbed people, whatever it may have been. They got a second chance here and that’s not what they do anymore."

Jerry Ball was fresh out of prison when he got connected with the Northcott Neighborhood House. Today, he's a site manager. It's a career he may not have otherwise been offered.

"A lot of employers don’t give people a chance with a bad background and you know, Northcott, they give you a chance," said Ball.

And that second chance is one that may end up impacting generations to come.

"If I can teach my son, they can teach theirs," said Ball who believes this program has offered him a chance to instill work ethic in his children.

The program, which offers opportunities to people 24-years-old or older is not one-of-it's kind.

Northcott Neighborhood House also offers several other job training programs including YouthBuild, an employment and skills training opportunity for people ages 16-23 and Fresh Start, for people ages 18-24. You can read more about the programs and pay rates here.

Many of the people who participate in Northcott's job training program go on to have successful careers in construction and earn workforce certificates and licenses along the way.

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