Breaking Through: WorkFaith Birmingham, Birmingham Magazine, Nov. 2014

 When Kenwyen Eatmon was released from prison last January, he was determined to turn around his life. After serving four years and eight months for attempted murder, though, getting a steady job was no easy task. 

While Eatmon trained as an electrician in prison, he couldn’t get so much as an interview for a job using his trade. Even fast-food restaurants turned him away. More than a year passed and regular employment remained outside of Eatmon’s grasp. 

With the Bureau of Justice Statistics reporting that 75 percent of former prisoners face re-arrest within five years of their release, Eatmon’s unstable situation put him at especially high risk of recidivism. 

Yet Eatmon’s grandmother, who once predicted he wouldn’t live to see 16, remained hopeful. 

“It’s gonna work out for you, because you’re trying this time,” he recalls her saying. 

A few days after her reassuring statement, Eatmon attended an informational meeting for WorkFaith Birmingham. 

WorkFaith Birmingham offers job training and placement assistance to the chronically unemployed, a group that includes ex-convicts, individuals transitioning out of homeless shelters, women leaving abusive relationships and divorcees who haven’t previously supported themselves. Participants begin by attending a two-week workshop where they learn resume development, how to complete a job application, effective job search techniques and how to talk about their past experiences in an interview. 

Upon completing the workshop, graduates continue to receive career counseling and emotional support from WorkFaith through a Pathway to Success Coach and a Life Development Plan. 

Church roots 
The program got its start three years ago at the Church of Brook Hills. At the time, Keith Stanley, the pastor of local missions and urban ministries, says he was looking for a way to “extend grace and mercy to people on the margins of what Birmingham has experienced through revitalization.” 

“We realized there are a lot of people who want to move forward,” Stanley says. “People coming out of transitional ministries, even out of prisons, want to move forward, but they need help, just like all of us do.” 

While traveling around the Southeast to observe other job placement programs, Stanley learned about Houston’s WorkFaith Connection, which in seven years trained more than 2,500 people and saw a 60 percent success rate. The Houston program offered Stanley its curriculum for free, allowing him to get WorkFaith Birmingham underway. 

First workshop in March 
Making some alterations to the Houston model, such as the additional counseling component, WorkFaith Birmingham started its first workshop in March. Since then, there have been six workshops and 69 percent of the graduates have landed steady jobs. 

Ty Coffey, WorkFaith Birmingham’s executive vice president, explains that the program’s success rate has improved over time, with recent classes seeing 100 percent job placement. They hope that with WorkFaith Birmingham’s sustained counseling and emotional support that high success rate will be the program’s norm, Coffey says. 

WorkFaith has found partners among a number of Birmingham employers, including Regions Bank, Innovative Billing Solutions, Caldwell Mill Animal Clinic and ServiceMaster Clean. 

The day after Eatmon graduated, he started a new job with Kitsmiller Litter Management. He now successfully supports his son, stepson and girlfriend and purchases medicine for his grandmother. Without WorkFaith, he says without hesitating, “I’d have been back on the street.” 

“For the first time in my life, I can say I’m proud of myself,” Eatmon says.

(This story was reprinted in the Birmingham News on Nov. 30, 2014)