Spotlight on Blue Jacket and its beauty (part one of two)

| May 25, 2016
The staff of Blue Jacket along with graduates of the Career Academy.

The staff of Blue Jacket along with graduates of the Career Academy.

By Jeanie Summerville

What’s up, babies?

It pleases me to bring to you this week’s spotlight because when I was invited to attend their second chances art gallery showcase at Artlink, I was intrigued and wanted  to know more about the beauty that Blue Jacket is bringing.  That beauty not only is apparent in the workplace training Blue Jacket delivers to encourage people to embrace that second chance, it’s also bringing beauty to the community by having a fundraiser and an art exhibit that highlights heartache and triumph of people in the community who have earned their second chance at employment and life. In turn, I want to share it with you.

Blue Jacket was created in 2003 and their mission is to provide education, training and opportunities to any disadvantaged person who is striving to earn a second chance at gainful employment.  And, according to their slogan, a second chance is everybody’s business. So, I feel it’s our business to know more about it because you might know someone who needs a second chance.  So at this time, all we’d like you to do is just sit back, relax and feel the love:

“Hello, Frost Illustrated readers.  My name is Tony Hudson and I’m the executive director of Blue Jacket that’s located at 2826 S. Calhoun St., here in Fort Wayne.  I’m also the founder but I really don’t like being called that—it just seems pretentious to me.  Honestly, I’d rather be called the servant because I know it was the good Lord that dispatched me to do this.

“I was given the opportunity along with the energy, drive and I was tired of people complaining about what needed to happen and no one would step up, so it was my pride that help create this organization.  However, 13 years later, I’m humbled just to be able to serve it and I’m not proud at all. I’m thankful to be here.    

“Blue Jacket came to be because I had the experience of working in county government in the criminal justice system and I found that through a lot of research and networking, that in other cities they had programs that worked successfully for people returning home from prison who needed employment programs. We needed something like that here as well.  So, when I was working in criminal justice, I wasn’t only a program facilitator but I was also a courtroom developer, which meant I had to research what worked best.  So, we tried a few different things in county government and then we piloted a training program and, at Blue Jacket, we have Career Academy and it works very well.  But, we acknowledged—and I say, we collectively because there was a board of directors that I was on that our Career Academy training would stay involved. But, it needed to have independence from criminal justice, it needed independent funding from government and it needed the mechanism to be able to hire people as well, so, hence, Blue Jacket was born.  It was a completely independent 501c3 with nine board of directors that are entrepreneurs, business owners, accountants and attorneys in the community that said, ‘Yes, this is something that needs to happen’ and they stepped up and we made it happen.  

“We were once located right next to the old Work One in Rudisill Plaza for about seven years but we were funded by federal grants and we could only serve a specific, small population of people with criminal backgrounds.  But when we moved to this location in 2012, we said, this a prime opportunity for us to address the one thing that we’ve never handled since we incorporated and that was, we would serve anyone who was disadvantaged that had a barrier to employment if we got good at helping people with criminal backgrounds, whether it was one small misdemeanor offense to a series of felony offences and they’re coming home from prison after a number of years.  It was in our articles of incorporation and it was in our application for IRS for a number of years.

“So when we moved into this building, a number of things triggered. We had the opportunity to open up the doors to other disadvantaged populations that has a barrier with various employment.  When you think about a barrier, what is a barrier?   It could be age because they are too young or too old, they may have too much experience or not enough. It could be education—too much or a lack thereof. It could be that they’re homeless, it could be they battled with addictions or they had trauma in their life because they served our military.  And, that’s the majority of our referrals nowadays—the disabled and homeless veterans, because they need employment too and they need to be productive as well and we prepare them for the world of work.

“Also, say someone has a criminal background and has any of those other preventing barriers. How are they going to work?  They call us, they show up and what we’ll do is, we’ll  sit them in front of an orientation which will be either a personal one-on-one or a classroom-based orientation with one of my staff and it takes 15 minutes to go over the ends and outs and the expectations of the organization.  They’ll fill out an application and enroll. There’s no registration fee and the class will start that following Monday because we want to get people into the world of work now and it’s only 40 hours in duration.

“Within the first module at Career Academy, we spend a lot of time training people to be the best job seekers and we feel, to this day, that we do the best at training them to be the best job seekers and the second module is, we definitely train them how to be the best employee as well.  Once they go through these two modules, they’re a graduate and once they’re a graduate we push them into a job.  Presently, we have an 84 percent employment rate and it’s the highest it’s ever been. And, in fact, we’re running into issues where we have too many employers calling us because they heard about us and they understand our reputation.  So what is our reputation?  It really envelopes around our training at Career Academy. They [participants] have to dress business professional, they have to be on time and they have to have their assignments completed everyday.” 

Now in closing I say, fantastic job, Tony, board members and staff for giving GOD’s people a brighter tomorrow that need it through a program such as Blue Jacket.  To our readers, part two of this interview will come to you very soon because you need to know about their garden and clothing company, how everything came about for the art gallery, some of their graduates and much, much more.  So until next week, you’ve been Up Close with Jeanie.  Bye bye, babies.

P.S.  If you’d like The Spotlight shined upon you or someone you know, all in the name of love,  just send me an e-mail to upclosewithjeanie@yahoo.com.  I’d love to hear from you.

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Category: Business, Community, Education, Features, Local

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