From meeting over coffee with a Toronto corrections officer to having conversations with community members from various backgrounds, momentum continues to build for a local social enterprise.
Ralph Gutkin says a recent forum in Peterborough that brought together citizens and spotlighted the Clean Slate Co-op initiative was a success and helped elevate the profile of stakeholders’ efforts.
Ralph and others are striving to build Clean Slate Co-op, a social enterprise for former detainees and other people who face barriers to employment. It will be an enterprise that will likely offer recycling services to the community, along with jobs for its residents.
In a discussion with Electric City Magazine, Ralph says the March 9 meeting was rewarding and what has been happening since is energizing.
“The purpose was really to inform and engage the community,” Ralph says of the event.
“I think we were largely successful.”
The meeting, hosted in partnership with Peter Pula of Electric City Magazine, drew about 30 people, representing a broad spectrum of the community. “There was a lot of enthusiasm, questions in the room and the sharing of ideas. I’m interested in people’s suggestions and there were some interesting ones.”
Ralph says community members have been e-mailing since the meeting with expressions of interest as far as participation and contribution. “It has been rewarding in that regard.”
He illustrated the point by relating how a short newspaper article about the event published by a local paper, caught the attention of a Toronto corrections officer who lives in Peterborough and works at the Toronto South Detention Centre. The corrections officer was intrigued by Clean Slate Co-op and reached out to Ralph to book a date.
The gentlemen met and the man expressed his interest in being involved and also joining the advisory board. “It’s an interesting perspective for sure,” Ralph notes.
In regards to general next steps following the event, there are a few topics that require further exploration so Ralph is planning additional meetings. The event piqued the curiosity of citizens who attended and left inspired to get involved, which he considers a win.
The next tangible step is to build the enterprise, which may also be a social co-operative, in the recycling field.
He has the support of some Peterborough politicians and is exploring a collaboration with an organization in Edmonton that is running a similar enterprise. Ralph is drawing on the expertise of the existing enterprise’s CEO and is learning the nitty-gritty details of replicating the operation.
Instead of re-inventing the wheel, modelling the Peterborough social enterprise after the Alberta one will allow for fewer mistakes and a quicker time-frame for implementation. There’s also a good chance of securing funding in sight.
“Hopefully in the next few weeks that will all be worked out and we will be looking at start-up times. It’s looking promising.”
Ralph, a former detainee, has been working on this idea for nearly three years. He was prompted to start a social enterprise following an experience in June 2016.
He had approached the John Howard Society about volunteer opportunities and then, around the same time, he heard a CBC radio program featuring a worker co-op in California.
“It suddenly dawned on me that there was this incredible synchronicity between worker co-ops and reintegration and rehabilitation. That kind of launched the idea.”
Since then, Ralph has conducted research and written plenty of material.
It is generally recognized that employment, with the appropriate training and education, are crucial components in the successful reintegration following a jail sentence, Ralph says.
His findings illuminate that in Canada and the United States, there is a track record of funding social enterprise programs that provide life- and job-skills training, work experience and assistance in finding steady employment for inmates and ex-offenders. Research conducted of the models used in Europe, particularly in Italy, demonstrates the value of co-operative employment and the engagement of community in the reintegration and rehabilitation of former detainees.
More than anything else, the difficulty an ex-offender faces in gaining employment correlates with recidivism. Conversely, the best predictor of a successful return from prison is employment. Those who return from prison and get jobs are far more likely to keep from going back to prison.
To learn more about the value of employment for former detainees, read this article, The Employment of Ex-Offenders is Important to Everyone.
To learn more, contact Ralph at [email protected]
Photos by Yvonne Hollandy. Click here to see a photo album from the event.
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