HomeLeadersForward ProjectionOKC’s Center for Employment Opportunities Receives $1 Million Grant to Connect Jobs...

OKC’s Center for Employment Opportunities Receives $1 Million Grant to Connect Jobs to Formerly Incarcerated

The Oklahoma City office of the Center for Employment Opportunities has been helping connect the recently incarcerated with employment since 2013. Now, thanks to a grant from the Truist Foundation, they’ll be able to offer additional support services to their clients.

“We tend to work with people who have been incarcerated within the last calendar year,” site director Emily Ray said. “That first year is a vulnerable time, especially for those who don’t have a support system, so we offer comprehensive employment services to help them transition back into full-time work.”

Ray said CEO in Oklahoma City works with an average of 20-to-30 employers a month, and over the past 10 years, they’ve worked with approximately 1,500 employers across multiple sectors, including labor, manufacturing, tech, hospitality, groundskeeping, etc. 

“We really value matching the right person with the right opportunity,” Ray said. “We ask them what’s most important to them: culture, pay, location, etc. After they acquire full-time employment, we stay with them for a full year with our retention specialist, who is an employee of CEO.”

The new grant from Truist Foundation provides $1 million for additional access to four key areas: 

  1. Industry-recognized Information Technology (IT) credentials to unlock well-paid tech jobs that average $50,000 per year
  2. Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) certifications to secure employment within the transportation industry
  3. Foundational digital literacy to get essential skills needed in today’s workforce
  4. CEO’s Emerging Leaders Program, an immersive apprenticeship that places participants on a team at CEO to further prepare them for employment in their training areas.

The grant is in line with Truist’s stated purpose of “creating sustainable wealth-building opportunities for historically excluded communities by providing grants to support nonprofit organizations that are innovating and making a meaningful difference in the lives of those they serve.” 

The Emerging Leaders Program has already graduated its first cohort, including Mattie Lemay in Oklahoma City. Lemay wrote about her time in ELP, and Ray sent her words along for this story.

“After struggling with addiction for years, eventually ending up incarcerated and losing my ability to continue to pursue my career as RN, CEO’s Emerging Leaders Program showed me that there not only was life after incarceration but hope for my future as well.  ELP gave me the foundation, platform and confidence I needed to realize that although I was a justice-impacted individual, I could use my all of my previous professional skills gained from years as an RN and the knowledge and empathy I have from having the lived experience of incarceration and get back to my true passion in life, which is helping people and having an impact on their lives. I now am pursuing a career in the nonprofit, reentry sector where I can support others who, like me, face the challenges of coming home from incarceration and give them the tools and support they need to succeed. CEO’s Emerging Leaders Program truly changed my life and gave way to a better and brighter future full of hope and promise.”

The four key areas are all part of an ongoing attempt by CEO to upscale employment for the formerly incarcerated, by giving them access to technology, training and credentials that can help make reintegration a little more seamless.

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