Robert Coleman, Executive Director, San Diego Second Chance
Tonya Rindskopf, Second Chance graduate
Related Story: Second Chance Is Lifeline For Job Seekers
CAVANAUGH: San Diego's unemployment figure is now at its lowest rate since 2008, and local economist expect it to drop into the 7% range sometime this year. While opportunities in the San Diego job market are expanding, the competition is still tough! Some San Diegans who have real challenges in the job market are getting help through a program called Second Chance. It has been featured in a documentary series on the Sundance channel. My guests, Robert Coleman is executive director of San Diego Second Chance. Welcome to the show.
COLEMAN: Good morning, good morning.
CAVANAUGH: And Tonya Rindskopf is a graduate.
RINDSKOPF: Thank you so much.
CAVANAUGH: Robert, who are the adults who come to second chance, and what are the reasons that they are not working?
COLEMAN: For a variety of reason, people who find themselves at second chance are there through choices that they've made in the past predominantly that have led them to a life that may be has involved incarceration, maybe it's involved homelessness. Often they have had a background that has been challenged by the addiction of alcoholism or drug use. And with those addictions come other issues with their family and their friends because they have destroyed those relationships. And they find themselves at Second Chance because they are desperate to change. And they know that they need to change and want to change. But they don't know how to.
COLEMAN: They don't know what that first step looks like. And they know that employment is the most significant route out of where they currently are. If I'm employed, I have a job, I have money, that money pays for my housing, it can help me deal with my medical bills, and it is the route away from the challenging situation that they're in. They've got themselves there. These situations often aren't -- haven't happened because of somebody else's doing. It's happened because of their own doing. And so what we do at second chance is provide a curriculum and a training environment where we can take them from where they are, give them the skills that my need to have that future that they desire. But it starts first with them.
CAVANAUGH: Right. I remember that originally the focus of second chance, as I recall, was to channel former prisoners into the workforce to reduce recidivism. Is that still the main goal of the program?
COLEMAN: You know, we take anybody.
COLEMAN: If you are -- if what I've described is you, the hardest to serve, whether you have been incarcerated or not, we had about 70% of our class will involve people who have some history of being incarcerated. But the other day we had a young lady who was 18 years old who just wanted her first job.
CAVANAUGH: And wanted to learn how to do it right.
COLEMAN: Just wanted to do a good presentation, wanted to learn how to do it right. So we offer our services to anybody.
CAVANAUGH: What kinds of things, Robert to applicants need from this program? What skills do you give them that they need in order to go out into the workforce and to actually secure a job?
COLEMAN: You know, we spend -- it's a 4-week course. And we spend the first 2.5 weeks dealing solely with their attitude. If we don't get that attitude correct and aligned, it doesn't matter how well you teach them to write a resume, to do an interview, and to present themselves to a future employer, if they have the bad attitude then they're never going to be successful. Employers can teach people skills. What they can't teach someone is a good attitude. And so the four weeks, it's pretty high-bar. Not everybody graduates. About half will graduate a class that starts. And because we have high expectations, we have --
CAVANAUGH: We have a clip from the Sundance channel show.
CAVANAUGH: In this clip, it goes to what you're talking about here. It's a group of strive program student, they're given a ten-minute break, but a teacher tells us, it's not only a break
NEW SPEAKER: What they don't know is that this is the first test. If you have a problem being late, you're not going to get a job. We are watching the clock.
NEW SPEAKER: We're close. Not yet, but we're close.
NEW SPEAKER: Okay, guys. That's it.
NEW SPEAKER: That's it, that's it.
NEW SPEAKER: Stand on the wall for me, sir.
NEW SPEAKER: Even if you're 10 seconds late, we'll make you stand against the wall. So how many of you by a show of hands agree that you're late? And the rest of you are in denial?
CAVANAUGH: That is a clip from the Sundance channel series on the second chance program, the strive program. And so you -- I mean, this is A very, very strict.
COLEMAN: We don't mess around. Those four week, we create an environment that is exactly the same as an employer would expect. It's Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 5:00. If you turn up late, we will deal with it in a way that an employer would deal with it. If we don't instill those disciplines and that standard that an employer would expect, not only have we failed the individual, but we failed any employer that this individual we present it to. We commit to two years after graduation ever supporting every individual to help them not only get a job but to be successful in their jobs.
CAVANAUGH: The end of that clip was the instructor basically taking something from each of the students who was late, something that was valuable to them. People who are unemployed, $5 is a lot of money, it's lunch money, it's get home money!
COLEMAN: It is.
CAVANAUGH: It's important. And we also see one of the students break down. He won't take it, and he's thrown out.
COLEMAN: There you go. And the reason that we do that exercise is if you're on my time and I am the employer, you're costing me money, if you come in 15 minutes late, that's my money you're costing me. And we try to get that message across quickly. And the one that left that class on that clip that you just shared is a classic example of attitude. My way is okay, just give me a job.
COLEMAN: And everything will be fine. And frankly, those are the challenges that present themselves, which is why not everybody is able to be successful in graduating a second chance class.
CAVANAUGH: Speaking of graduating, let me bring tonia into this program. How did you hear about second chance?
RINDSKOPF: I heard about it through a program I got involved with. I was caught up in the party lifestyle coming out from Vegas. Was heavily involved in drugs, prostitution. Came through, decided I was -- had enough, wanted to change my life, and decided to go through Kiva, which is a residential treatment. While I was in there, I came across some girls that had been talking about the program. They spoke very highly of it. Told me a lot of good things and said it was a good thing to do. So I chose to go in and enroll and get involved in a program I wasn't sure too much about. But I knew I was ready for change and was yearning for something different to happen.
CAVANAUGH: What did you find hard about this program?
RINDSKOPF: I felt the hardest thing about the program was the -- probably being held accountable for your actions. Sometimes in life, you know, I had been getting away with so many things and not being held accountable that suddenly I was placed in a position where I was having to be held accountable, whether that was paying money out of pocket, especially money at that point that I did not have for things that I chose to not do accordingly.
CAVANAUGH: For every single action, there's an accountability. People who have perhaps been sliding along a little bit would find that most difficult to incorporate into their lifestyle.
COLEMAN: Absolutely right. And what Tonya has explained is so common for our graduates. What is interesting, we know what we're doing and what we have to do to make that transformation take place. And when graduates come back, having got a job, and tell their story to current participants going through the program, every single one, and it's so interesting every time, they look at them and they say trust the process. Now, graduates get it at the end. They can look back and they can see this is why you made it so accountable because now they've learnt and understood what it means, and now I can be a successful employee.
CAVANAUGH: Did some of the things seem stupid do you along the way?
RINDSKOPF: In the beginning, yes, absolutely.
CAVANAUGH: But what's what you get over the longhall.
RINDSKOPF: Absolutely. In the end, it all comes to light. You actually end up being very grateful for the lessons learned and for those infractions that are placed upon you throughout the program. They really taught me so much.
CAVANAUGH: Robert, have you witnessed the actual turning point for some people? When people perhaps start to get it? When people come in with a bad attitude or feeling that they're going to fail? But that point at which someone seems to get it?
COLEMAN: It is interesting. There are different points at different times. And often when they -- the light goes on is at the end of something that's been badly for them. And what we do is we put a mirror in front of them, and we present themselves to them. And we had an individual recently who was complaining about everybody else. And really she was the issue because her attitude and the way that she presented herself, and she and I had a difficult conversation in front of everybody because I gave her my impression. And if I'm the employer, that's what counts! It's my money! And she found that so difficult to hear because in her mind, she was in right. And what I was saying was something very different. And I ended by saying, frankly, I wouldn't employ you right now. And she found that really difficult. And she -- it took her some days to think about that and to internalize it. And the successful ones are those that take that critique and are able to turn it around and take it a positive. Because if they know that we're there to help them, then they know that anything that we say to them is part of that journey to help them move forward. And sometimes the challenge for our staff I find is we want it so much more for them than they want it for themselves. But we can't give it to them. We can give them the tools and the techniques. But if they don't want that change badly enough inside their own minds and hearts and their own motivation, that's where the tragedies take place and where we sometimes have to ask people to leave.
COLEMAN: Now, they're welcome to come back to the next class. It's not a forever leave. But maybe this class isn't right for you. And on one of the shows, the Sundance channel, that took place for one lady. A lot of drama, week 3, she left. And she came back to the next class. And quite often, it will be the case that people will come back to one, two, even three classes before they really get and they really have that mindset that says I'm going to do what it takes, I'm going to focus on getting a job, and I'm not going to let family and friends and colleagues distract me from my goal of getting a job.
CAVANAUGH: What kind of success rate do you have with the people who graduate from the strive program?
COLEMAN: For those who actually go through graduation, we get on average about 70% of them back into work within 3-4 months. And then -- of those that we get back into work, a year later, the vast majority of them continue to be in gainful employment.
CAVANAUGH: That's quite a track record considering the kind of job market that we've been dealing with.
COLEMAN: Yes, it is. And that's why we make this 2-year commitment to every single graduate. That is the carrot on the stick for them. If you graduate, you get our support and all of our resources for the next two years. And frankly, we say two years, but if you came back five years later, we'd still welcome you and give you a hug and say how can we help. And it's knowing that that I see people constantly come back because they know Second Chance is a safe environment, they know that we're going to wag the finger at them if they need it. And sometimes they come back because they know they need it and they just need to have that little bit of realignment, that little bit of reality given back to them again. And it gets them back on track.
CAVANAUGH: Tonya, what are you doing now?
RINDSKOPF: I'm actually working for Second Chance! I graduated, I was given a job lead within the first week of graduating, went there, and quote "blew the interviewer out of the water" with my interview and was hired on at a clothing boutique downtown. And from there pursued my goals to move on, get into another company, advanced very quickly through the ranks there, and then was contacted by a manager at Second Chance and was offered to come back. And I jumped on the chance because it's such an amazing program. I definitely welcomed the opportunity.
CAVANAUGH: So you went out into the workforce, and you got some experience, and then second chance said remember that graduate we had? We think we'd like her back. Now, Robert, how do you get into this program? Is there a waiting list or anything like that?
COLEMAN: No, we do 10 classes a year. The next class starts this Friday with orientation.
CAVANAUGH: Is there a charge for this?
COLEMAN: No, no. You just turn up, you register, we do orientation this Friday, 9:00 to 12:00, and then the class starts in Ernest next Monday at 9:00. That's four weeks. We then have a down week, and at the end of the down week, we start another orientation.
CAVANAUGH: Are some people referred to this program through maybe the legal system or --
COLEMAN: Yes. The majority of referrals are people who know, like Tonya, she knew someone who'd been through it, and there's a suggestion, hey, it was good, you should have a try. Often if people are currently on probation, probation officers will refer them to Second Chance. And I was having lunch with one of the judges recently, and she often refers people to second chance. Because she knows the impact that we have, and the success rate that we have with people who graduate. And she gives them a choice. You can either go to second chance or you can do 45 days in jail. What would you like it to be?
CAVANAUGH: I see.
COLEMAN: That's a good and a bad thing because often the motivation is not there. They're there because they think it's the easy way out. Then they arrive at second chance and boy, now they're being held accountable! And this is every day, five days a week for four weeks. So they have to switch their mind that I'm here for me because of what I'm going to get out of it. I'm not here because the judge told me to be here.
CAVANAUGH: Quickly, one last thing, were you pleased with the Sundance channel documentary? Did that really give a good idea of what this program is like?
COLEMAN: I think Sundance did a tremendous job in in one hour explaining the journey people like Tonya go through in a year. It's very difficult. We had cameras, a whole film crew of 10 there for four months, and they filmed everything. And you take all that filming and you create 42 minutes of a documentary out of it.
CAVANAUGH: Some things are left on the cutting room floor.
[ LAUGHTER ]
COLEMAN: It's challenging for them, and I think they did an amazing job of focusing on two or three and describing their journey. And what is interesting, when they pick the two or three at the beginning, they had no idea whether this was going to be the two or three that were going to make it to the end or not. And some of them and some of them didn't.
CAVANAUGH: I want to let our listens know in the interests of full disclosure that Irwin Jacobs is a funder of second chance, and he is also a major funder of KPBS.