Faith-based program aims to help ex-offenders find, keep a job

On the one hand, Ottawa County Judge Jon Hulsing makes the decision to put people behind bars. But on the other, he helps them as they return to the community and try to get established in mainstream society.
Kelle Lynn
Feb 18, 2012

Hulsing presides over courtroom 3-A in the Ottawa County Courthouse in Grand Haven and is a member of the 70x7 Life Recovery, a nonprofit organization based in Holland. The judge said he likes that he can assist on the other end of the system.

“Ninety-eight percent of the people in prison eventually get out,” Hulsing said. “This is a faith-based program that is taken from the Bible verse Matthew 18:21-22, where Peter came to Jesus and asked how often he should forgive someone who sins against him. Jesus replied, ‘70 times seven.’

“People coming out of prison that are willing to change should be given the opportunity to get their life back in order,” he added. “They have already paid the price and the support system isn’t always there.”

The organization, 70x7 Life Recovery, originated in Ridgepoint Community Church in Holland 17 years ago. It offers help in the way of a mentoring program, employment services and addiction recovery. The name signifies that forgiveness is always available. 

Brian Vork, the executive director of 70x7, said he felt called to helped individuals with substance abuse issues and has dedicated his life to this organization. 

“It is our responsibility to provide the individuals, who truly want to change, the support and opportunities they need to be successful as they transition into a life that is characterized by better choices,” Vork said. 

The organization seeks out employers who are willing to work with ex-offenders, as many employers don’t want to hire people with a prior conviction.

“Not working can be the downfall for some people, since they have too much time on their hands,”  Hulsing said. “They run the risk of either going on Social Security Disability or relapsing back into drugs and alcohol.” 

Hulsing said a large number of people in the criminal justice system have had issues with mental health and substance abuse. The 70x7 Life Recovery organization assists in the area of addiction recovery by ensuring there are an adequate number of alcohol and drug recovery meetings and using the 12-Step Program model.

The organization has also formed two business entities that provide transitional employment opportunities for people formally incarcerated: New Day Staffing and New Day Property Services.  

New Day Staffing identifies individuals that have a strong desire to change the way they lived their life in the past. Since supporting themselves is a key starting point in their recovery, New Day helps connect these individuals with local employers. New Day Staffing accepts the liability and risk by providing workers with compensation coverage, unemployment insurance and liability insurance. They also provide each individual with a mentor, which gives the business owner a level of assurance that the employee will be successful on the job.

New Day Property Services is a job skills development program in which individuals learn the “soft skills” needed to be successful in any job setting. New Day Property Services does industrial painting and specialized industrial cleaning. 

“We had 15 job placements in January,” Hulsing said. “It was the highest month ever.” 

In addition, 70x7 Life Recovery recently formed a partnership with Job Seekers at St. Patrick’s/St. Anthony’s Parish in Grand Haven to offer pre-employment skills.

“With the price of gas the way it is, and some people without transportation, it’s a lot to ask people to drive from Grand Haven to Holland when they are in the initial stages of trying to get their lives back on track,” Hulsing said. “So bringing the program to Grand Haven is a benefit in every way.”

Job Seekers has been offering support for individuals who struggle with unemployment issues since 1995. The group helps people put together a resume, deal with the stress of being unemployed, provide mentorship and help regain their self-esteem.

St. Pat’s Parish Administrator John Strazanac said roughly 450 people a year come through the Job Seekers program, and working with 70x7 is “a natural fit.”

“It embellishes our collaborative partnerships with Michigan Works, Catholic Charities, Employment Alliance, Grand Haven Area Community Foundation and the Sparta Area Public Schools,” he said.

Shelley Appel, the program coordinator for Job Seekers, recently expanded her role from working three days a week to five days because of the new partnership with 70x7 Life Recovery.

“Many of the people we see here have a criminal background and we want to serve these people in an effective way,” Appel said. “We want to send them away successful and know we have made an impact on their life.” 

Online:
www.70x7liferecovery.org 

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