Mayor John Cooper attended the grand opening of Project Return’s new Nashville headquarters Thursday. The organization focuses on helping former prison inmates find resources to return to the community.
Cooper thanked the organization’s hard work for the past forty years, and said that he was grateful to be celebrating the new 109 Lafayette St. location.
Project Return was started by two Nashville Reverends, Bill Barnes and Don Beisswenger. The two men founded Project Return in 1979, and the organization is still working to help those returning to society. Their website states:
Through PRO Employment, our first social enterprise, we create meaningful employment opportunities for the people we serve by hiring them ourselves. They gain real-world work experience and income as Project Return’s transitional employees, and then go on to become the proud and successful employees of Middle Tennessee companies, and a vital part of the workforce of this community. Through our second social enterprise, PRO Housing, we create affordable rental homes for hard-working men and women who’ve left prison behind.
The organization says that they work with “people who want more than anything to start a new life after incarceration and leave prison behind.”
The organization helps in many ways. Their website has a number of examples of their work listed, including testimonials from those that Project Return has helped get back on their feet. Some of the work the group does is:
- Prison in-reach, where they work in jails and prisons daily,” sparking connections with the men and women who are doing time and will soon gain their freedom.”
- Workforce development, delivering a weekly three day curriculum given to newly released individuals that focus on “soft skills and gets people job-ready.”
- Employment Opportunities that builds relationships with employers across the city and region, and works to meet employers workforce needs.
- Individual Coaching and Signature Services that include: job search strategies, assistance with housing and utility pay, obtaining identification documentation (birth certificates, state IDs, drivers licenses), and direct aid, such as food, clothing, bus fares, and transportation services.
- Better Suited, where they partner with Middle Tennessee Men’s Wearhouse to help give Project Return’s participants like new clothing, shoes, and ties.
- The Reentry Entrepreneurship Program (“REP”) that is “for people who’ve gained stability after incarceration and are interested in starting their own businesses, REP offers capacity-building and mentorship in entrepreneurship, in partnership with Stanford and Vanderbilt Universities.”
- Job Retention Services, where Project Return helps participants keep their jobs with “ongoing support, including one-on-one and on-the-job coaching, financial empowerment, child support assistance, and more”
- Skills Development, which builds skill in both construction and hospitality (mainly guest services and culinary arts.)
In 2019 alone, Project Return reports the organization was able to find 578 jobs for its participants; and that it also has a less than 15 percent recidivism rate, whereas the state and national rate is over 50 percent.
Among the testimonials on the website from current and former participants, under the ‘Our Impact’ tab on the website were a number of recorded interviews of participants who had started new lives out of prison. They all told their story and the recurring message was that Project Return gave them a chance, and helped them get back on their feet when they needed it most.
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