02/07/2013 06:48 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2013

A Job A Day!!

So far in 2013, Project Return is "raising" A JOB A DAY -- as of the 31st of January, we have 31 clients who have gotten jobs!! When you walk in the front door at Project Return, our Job Wall proudly displays photos of the smiling faces of our clients who gained employment in January. And, so far in February, we're holding strong with this job-a-day rate. Congratulations to all of them!

Who are the folks getting jobs, how are we propelling them into jobs, and how are they making it happen?

These job-getters did not have their new positions handed to them on a silver platter, not by a long shot. We like to say that we teach our clients -- ex-offenders who just got out of prison -- how to fish. Our services are elicited by their engagement. When they begin with Project Return, we tell them, "you have a job right now, and your job is getting a job." Our clear message to them is, "this is your time; today is your day."

Not too long ago, a happily employed client stopped back by our office, and when asked, "How did you get your job?" he replied, "I just did what you taught me here." His assessment lines up with that of The Huffington Post and Skoll Foundation, who selected Project Return as a finalist for The JobRaising Challenge, a nationwide competition. You can support us on Crowdrise, and thereby enable us to propel motivated job-seekers, recently released from prison and ready to start their new lives off right, onto career paths and into jobs.

Project Return requires participation in a very aggressive job search. Participants are taught to get up early each day and devote 40 hours per week to their job search. We teach cold-calling and cluster-marketing; we emphasize planning and scheduling. They have to check back in with us and review what they've pursued. They are instructed to make at least 30-40 cold calls, including a few interviews, each week. We teach a follow-up system that enables the clients to name-brand themselves to potential employers.

And here's a message that works: We believe in you. You have worth and dignity as a human being. You have paid your debt to society, and you own your mistakes and your destiny. You have to make your way in this world, and it can be almost devastatingly difficult. If you engage in our process and work hard at it, we will work hard at it with you. You will encounter rejection and discouragement, and you will need to summon your inner fortitude and muster more persistence than you may know you have. We will encourage you.

All along the way, we focus on "soft" skills. Mostly, those are intangible, immeasurable, know-it-when-you-see-it qualities that make a person desirable to have alongside you in the workplace. Strong work ethic, self-motivation and positivity, good communication, team mentality, drive for excellence. There are also the innumerable characteristics that make or break one's employability, things like promptness, a firm handshake, good eye contact, appropriate language. None of which, by the way, were highlights of prison life.

Beyond soft skills, Project Return takes a serious look at each participant's skills and interests. As much as possible, we are providing daily job leads that match their specific abilities. We give our clients up-to-date information on current job openings. We research our extensive organizational database of employers and provide companies for our clients to contact that match their skills and interests.

Convicted of felonies and returning to the community from prison, our clients have faced almost insurmountable odds. They range from first-time offenders to multiple offenders, many with drug offenses and some with violent offenses, some who have lived more of their years inside detention than outside prison walls. Our clients are poor, and most lack education and work experience. On the other hand, now they're choosing to live right, and they constitute one of the most motivated job applicant pools you will ever find. This is their time; today is their day.