Innovative Workforce Solutions: Part One

The great resignation has provided us an opportunity to shed some light on what others are already doing when it comes to workforce. Join us as we continue the conversation on innovative workplace solutions.


0:03 Cynthia Rojas

Hi, everyone. Welcome to Coffee Time with Masterminds. As you know, we’ve been talking about workforce for the last several weeks and boy, has it been an interesting conversation. We’ve learned quite a few things but as a nation we’re feeling the pain of the great resignation. For many organizations this has led to innovative practices and for others, it has left leaders wondering, where did everybody go?

And yet, the great resignation has also given us an opportunity to shed some light on what others are doing true, true innovation. So, join us as we continue the conversation of innovation in the workplace.


Welcome. Hi, I’m Cynthia Rojas from Coffee Time with Masterminds and I am riding solo as my co-hosts are on vacation and away. But, I want to welcome all of our listeners across the country and also to our viewers; our listeners in Australia, welcome; and our viewers in the U.S and across the world let us know if you’re listening and we’re from because we always want to hear from you and today we have two special guests Alden Woodcock and Ra Hashim are the executive director and supervisor and mentor to EMERGE Connecticut. And EMERGE Connecticut is an interesting organization. It works with individuals re-entering from our criminal justice system and not only does it provide support and training, but EMERGE also has a social enterprise that allows it to walk the walk and talk the talk or not just talk to talk but walk the walk. Whatever, the metaphor is, EMERGE is doing it and I am excited to welcome both Alden and Raj. How are you guys?


Hi, Cynthia. I’m good.

2:26 Cynthia Rojas

That’s so cool. That’s so cool. I’m so excited to have you guys on, thank you. Thank you for joining us. Part of this excitement is that as you know, workforce has always been an issue; but boy, has it exploded ever since COVID and the post pandemic or I don’t even know if I can call it that because we’re still in the pandemic, but after we had to decide whether we’re going to go back to work do a hybrid or work from home, there has been an enormous amount of individuals resigning. And leaders are asking where did these individuals go? Where are they?

But we also know that there are non-profits that are doing really interesting stuff to keep and retain their workers, but also train the next generation of our workforce. So, tell me a little bit about EMERGE.

3:21 Alden Woodcock

Yeah. Thank you so much, Cynthia. It’s great to be with you.

3:27 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah, thank you.

3:28 Alden Woodcock

 So, as you said, EMERGE is a social enterprise. We are a non-profit social enterprise and the type of social enterprise is we run as an employment social enterprise. Basically, what that means is that we’re a non-profit organization with a social mission, but we’re also a small business. Our business is construction. We do construction, landscaping, property maintenance. We have contracts all over the City of New Haven where we operate. That status gives us the unique ability to hire people that are coming home from the criminal justice system as crew members.

So, unlike most workforce development organizations, “we’re actually an employer ourselves.” So, we’re able to meet that immediate need of employment when you come home, while we also try to do the more important work, which I consider you know the actual social mission, the healing that really happens when you first get home in this space. So, everybody comes home from incarceration and there’s a lot of pressure on us in America in general to be able to provide especially you know toxic masculinity. all these things. We deal with mostly men here.

You know, there’s this pressure that we put on ourselves to be the provider. So, we’re able to meet the immediate need and people are able to learn new skills in in a trade that is historically very forgiving to people with criminal records – construction. So, you’re able to learn a trade, make some money. But we really leverage that opportunity to put people on payroll as a way to get people to pause.

One of the things that we don’t encourage people coming home from the criminal justice system to do is really start that healing process, and really start to build a foundation when he first comes home because if you go straight from prison to work in a 40-hour work week, it’s just not that simple. A job is not enough to keep somebody from falling back into the pitfalls of a parole violation, pressure societal pressures and just that adjustment that needs to happen mentally, emotionally, socially beyond just employment. Employment is just one important piece of coming home from incarceration, but we find that the mental, emotional, and social aspects of it are what really people stumble on and that’s what we find ourselves very well set up to address.

6:07 Cynthia Rojas

I like that. I like that. You said a couple of things, but I’m interested also… Ra, you are both a supervisor and a mentor. And I’m going to imagine that for some of these individuals they just came out of a system that was probably very structured and they’re coming in and there’s a lot happening. They’re reintegrating to their family. They’re reintegrating to a different society. And depending how long they’ve been away, things are changing so fast and so, what are you finding are the needs? I think it’s interesting that you’re both supervisor and mentor. What are you seeing are the needs that these individuals have coming in to EMERGE and what’s the importance of mentorship?

6:58 Ra Hashan

It’s very important pretty much like the mentorship because you know, they’re getting the benefits of having somebody who’d been through it, and you know, they get the benefits out of somebody that’s not been through but still navigating to get to a better situation; because a lot of time when brothers and sisters come home, we’re just lost. We’re trying to not really catch up. We’re just trying to be established. We’re just trying to be in a situation where we can function. And then a lot of times you know, you’re just dealing with the fact that before you got locked up you were providing and you leader to win and now, you’re able to break space.

So, that’s not always a good thing to process as itself. So, just having that support system, just having a family outside your own home to understand. Of course, you’re feeling they’ll be there and you love them, but sometimes they don’t know how to express, to help. Sometimes they don’t know what o do to help you navigate. They’re just trying to make sure you got a job and trying to just make sure you don’t go back to prison. They’re not really trying to make sure you’re building the foundations, to see you survive. That’s kind of the great thing about this.

8:14 Cynthia Rojas

I love this. I love this. And yes, I think it’s important. We had someone on the show just talke about mentoring, and he talked about how companies do not take advantage of the power of mentoring. And I love when you said being with someone that’s been through it themselves is really, really valuable and we have to watch ourselves because you know, we come in thinking we’re going to save the world and yet, if we’ve never really experienced it, we don’t know that pain. So, thank you for that. Alden,you used the word healing about four times, and I want to tap into that because it’s obviously a big deal and it also goes into our next conversation which I was hoping we would have is, what are the unique challenges of the re-entry population? But if you could talk also about healing and what that means, that would be interesting.

9:16 Alden Woodcock

Yeah, definitely. This the thing. I mean, you know, for most people, like 10 years ago maybe, I never heard of the words self-care. And I think in personal development and things like emotional intelligence and things like that and I think for people that have been in systems especially, you know, mental health and mental wellness and self-care have been stigmatized, right. If I’ve been in the school system and I’m misbehaving I’m sent to a counselor as a punishment, or it might feel like a punishment for me. Or when I’m in the DCF system or I’m in the criminal justice system I’m forced to see a counselor. You know, in the criminal justice system I’m forced to take medication. I’m forced to see a counselor. So, when I come home the last thing I want is someone to tell me to go see a therapist, right.

10:13 Cynthia Rojas

Love that.

10:17 Alden Woodcock

That has not worked for me. But for me personally, Alden, you know I haven’t been in the criminal justice system and I have engaged in therapy by my personal choice. I’ve had ages seated in that position. I’ve been in the driver’s seat of that Journey and it’s been a tool that I can use for my own feeling and my own mental health. And what we try to do at EMERGE  is just destigmatize mental health because there’s been this connotation that mental health has been punitive. So, we’re trying to push that on its head and give people agency and make sure that people know that their healing and their mental health is something that… you know, the same way you go to the gym and you work out your muscles and you get in tune with your body and you should be able to develop a practice that works for you, be a therapist that maybe looks like new and has been through things that you’ve been through and can help you through a lot of these things.

And in the same vein, mentorship is incredibly important, that lived experience, so having a network of mentors, peers, therapists building that support system so that you have a healthy network to support you through these challenges that are inevitably going to happen. Just because you just decided to start working and doing the right thing doesn’t mean you’re not going to meet family members again. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to face tragedy. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have anxiety. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to be played with depression.

So, you have to be able to develop more than one tool in your tool belt to be able to go at those different challenges that will inevitably come your way. So, we’re very much trying to prepare people by putting them with that healthy place where you can sort of start that process.

12:00 Cynthia Rojas

I love that. I love that. But I have to ask and Ra, you know, you’re more on the ground, right. So, I’m going to imagine just based on my lived experience, right and belonging to a Latino culture, I remember when I told my mom I was seeing a therapist and she said, “Well, you’re not going to tell them everything, right?” And so, the idea that I was airing our dirty laundry –first of all, she didn’t think I needed a therapist – that I had this perfect life and so that there’s no need for processing; and if you need to process then you do that inside the house and you shut the door, you don’t tell anybody.

And yet, I am a woman and so we in general are allowed to show our emotions.

I’m going to imagine that for some of the men that could be challenging or maybe even the first time they’re hearing about that, and they may belong to a culture that doesn’t really appreciate that sort of you know, processing. and so a guy’s shocked when they come to EMERGE and they’re like, “What, you want me to talk about what happened to me when I was six? I don’t think so.” What are you finding, Ra?

13:19 Ra Hashim

Yeah, it could mean they have their guard up, which is initially they’d have their guard up. But I think, you know, we lay out our torches, and so, the guard that they did have it starts to come down. And then the thing about healing, like the brother was saying earlier, everybody deserves it. But everybody don’t really go at first because we suppress certain things. Like you were saying earlier, there’s a suppressed feeling. They suppress emotions because they don’t want to get buried or feel they did something wrong. They want to forgive themselves.

But I just feel like everything that we go through happens for a reason. And part of that is going through a process of understanding that. So, we always kind of encourage that with the brothers and sisters that come in here, to give themselves a chance. Give yourself a chance to really find out and understanding it. You have to balance that feeling. Like the brother was saying earlier, you’re going through these situations, it’s not going to stop. But now you just have more of awareness of it. You’re more in the moment instead of running around suppressing it. Now you’re trying to figure out what’s going on for you to navigate it.

14:31 Cynthia Rojas

I love that and I wonder, has anyone ever succeeded without the healing part in your program? Alden is smiling. Uh-oh.

14:52 Ra Hashim

I can’t say I have. I don’t know. They could just tell me one thing and it could be something else, but just for me, I can’t say that.

15:04 Cynthia Rojas


15:07 Ra Hashim

The thing about suppressing things, it is you know, it just stays in. It stays in to the point you explode and then when you explode in that cup which is overflowing that’s on the ground, now it’s a disaster. It could have been avoided. And now you keep going down this spiral of just crashing across when you can just sit back in there and just tap in and this is a better life this way, but let’s just try this way for the better good.

15:34 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah, I love that. Alden, you were smiling.

15:41 Alden Woodcock

Yeah, I know. I think that’s for everybody, right. I mean our ability to achieve our potential and what we feel like what we know we’re capable of or what other people will see us to be capable of that we might not see in ourselves hinges entirely on our ability to heal and adjust. And I think the thing that’s interesting and my board chair, Don Sawyer, would say, “You know, people always say that people coming home need a second chance,” but when I start to hear these stories, I realize that most of the guys that come through here haven’t had a first chance.

Some people are just going from the very beginning in terms of like, “I’ve never had a chance where I felt comfortable talking about some of this stuff.” “I didn’t know I had anxiety. I don’t even know what that was,” and just you know starting to have that space to kind of map out these issues and start to see that maybe I’m not the only one going through it. Like that right there is scarce. So, I would say that nobody has gone through this program without healing unless they didn’t stay long enough to really experience that because that’s what you’re faced with when you come here. You’re faced with a mirror. You’re faced with other people that you respect and that have been through what you’ve been through being vulnerable, and what’s seen as a sign of strength.

So now, I’m like, “Oh, I got to start to get comfortable with opening up a little bit,” and once you’ve seen that start to happen, it’s almost like you get kind of addicted to it. Like, wow like I kind of crave that agency that freedom. And so, yeah, nobody here has gone through this without some level of healing.  Obviously, it’s different for everybody, but I think that’s crucial especially after a traumatic life event like incarceration.

17:52 Cynthia Rojas

Wow. And so, I wonder in the world of workforce, here are a group of individuals wanting to change their lives, wanting a first or even a second chance—and I love that Alden that some of them never even got a first chanc—wanting to put the past behind them and really start again; and yet, there are challenges. There are real barriers that as a country we impose of our individuals that are coming back home. Can you tell us a little bit about that because I’m not sure we all understand what’s it like to have gone to prison and then come out and have all these barriers. Can you and Ra talk a little bit about that?

18:45 Alden Woodcock

I’ll start and Ra can expand on it in a little bit, but you know, the main thing that people see as a barrier when they’re coming home is employment. I mean even if someone was open to hiring someone with a criminal record like having them glance on your resume, you know, not having work experience, not havning qualifications – all those things come into play, and you know, you’re kind of getting no’s when you’re looking for a job whether you’ve been incarcerated or not. But a lot of those no’s really feed into your narrative that people have with themselves that they’re not worthy or they’re not

they’re not a part of that world, right.

So, they’re not accepted in the world of the workforce. They’re not accepted in mainstream society. So, you know, when they get that you know it’s way more triggering than a no that I would get from a job. And so, there are many employers that will not hire people especially with certain charges on their record and it becomes something that you face for the rest of your life until you’re able to get your record expunged and build up some work experiences and stuff like that. And there are pieces of legislation that are starting to help with that, but even that’s for like early non-violent offenses.

So, some people stick to make a simple mistake and end up with this tag on them for the rest of their lives. Some of the more unknown or not as well-known things as you mentioned, Cynthia, before the call, people are getting their licenses again, so you have to go through a lot of hoops to get your license. We had one guy who paid his restitution, paid restoration fee, paid for his permit – did all the stuff, went through all the hoops and now he’s failed his driver’s test twice over the most stupid little things. And it’s like you know, driving too slow on an icy road or you know, glancing at your backup cam after glancing at all your mirrors when you’re backing up.

And those are two reasons that someone just failed the test like in the past couple weeks. And this guy’s got to get to work, so the temptation is for him to use his car to just go to work, but without a license that’s a violation of your parole. Now you’re back in jail. Whereas, me or you Cynthia, we drive without a license we got to go to court and then a fee. We’re not getting sent to jail for that, right. So, it’s just your margin for error is so low. I’d say one of the biggest things, Cynthia, if I’m being totally honest is housing, housing, housing.

It’s really hard to get housing. A lot of people come home to families who are living in Section 8 say for instance, living in subsidized housing. If I have a criminal record, I’m not allowed to live with them. So, now I can’t go live with my wife and kids. Of course, I’m going to want to go there. Of course, I’m going to go visit there. Of course, I’m going to go stay there, but if I get caught, I’m getting a violation. So,  now I’m looking for housing just to have an address for parole or whatever but I’m not really living there. So, now I’m paying rent, they’re paying rent, and it’s hard to make ends meet.

22:11 Cynthia Rojas

Wow. And you’re a family. So, the family is being divided.

22:16 Alden Woodcock


22:17 Cynthia Rojas

I did not know that.

22:19 Alden Woodcock

If I can’t find a place to live, one of the most common things I’m going to do is I’m going to get into a relationship just so I have a place to live. So, instead of we met, we’re dating, we fell in love, we want to move in together and stuff like that… it’s like we met, we moved in together, right because it’s it’s a necessity. I need a place to live, right.

So, now we’re in this dysfunctional kind of power dynamic where your ability to get along hinges on your ability to have a place to live. Because if I call your PO, I call the police that’s a violation. You’re going back to jail. You’ve been all over these arguments, right. So, all of these things are sort of the unseen little details, that it’s so easy to fall back into the system when you come home even if you are trying to do the right thing.

23:13 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah, this is complicated.

23:13 Alden Woodcock

When someone goes on payroll on EMERGE, I get a bill and I’m told to garnish their wages. Now I will say compared to when my predecessor Dennis Gino was in charge, the ask is much lower. It’s much more reasonable. It’s much more based on their income, but it’s still a huge barrier. And it’s something that makes it really hard when you’re working part-time and half your check is getting garnished by child support. It disincentivizes working legitimately, right. You’ll get money money off the books somewhere and that doesn’t really help either. So, there’s a lot of little Insidious things that come into play when you’re making that transition.

24:01 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah. And Ra, I have to tell you, as supervisor and mentor I am already overwhelmed just hearing about all the challenges, and I can’t imagine what it is to come out and be… you know many times, we’re  happy to come out and yet I didn’t know about the Section 8. So, the idea that I might have to lose my family and not be able to reintegrate because of that law. And then, I love Alden when he said you know normally, we meet somebody, we like them, we date. Some of us date longer than others. But you know, we’re checking the hood under the car, and here we’re just buying the car and we’re driving away. Wow, and do you begin to unpack this for individuals that are just coming back home? Where do you begin, Ra?

25:01 Ra Hashim

I just always try to be their ear. I’ll be their listening support. A lot of times they want somebody to talk to. And then it’s a scary situation when you come to home because you know, you think that you know this is behind you now. You got a clean slate, you paid your debt, and you think it’s going to be on a fair base because you did what you had to do, but if this is hard. And then it goes on your mental now. So, it’s kind of like a warfare every time you go look for these jobs.

I remember I got locked up, had a job at the end of my time. I did everything. I checked my “system” and everything, but they wanted nothing to do with me because of my background. And then as it turns out, forcefully, they’re telling you that they’re one way, you know, being friendly-friendly just to tell you that they can’t hire you because of your background.

Then they turn around and like, “This can’t be the family man because he’s been gone for all these years, but you want to make it. Count me out because you’re in a better place. You can’t be at your old place.” And you just can’t find a job. You couldn’t get a job, it makes shit to go back to your old place.

Because you don’t want to go back to prison. You don’t want to be broke. And then everybody around you is telling you you better get some money; you better get a job. You know, if it isn’t everything, but really what you really kind of need, like the mental band that you need, and this is the armor and tool that you need to develop. So, I always try to be the ear to these brothers and sisters. you know. I try to be their ear. I don’t tell them what to do, but I prepare contrast about you know, what I went through.

I’m like, “Well, you know, I’ve seen you know, you should look into this. I think you should be open-minded for this, because I remember…” So, just trying to basically be a listening ear.

26:53 Cynthia Rojas

That’s awesome. And so, we have about three minutes left and I definitely want to tap into your success; like what kind of outcomes does EMERGE have? I mean, you are obviously a front runner in New Haven Connecticut. I see your name. I see articles written about you. You guys are always in the paper. Your local foundation is a huge supporter of your work. So, you’re obviously rocking it. Tell me about your outcomes. Tell me your success.

27:28 Alden Woodcock

Yeah. So, the biggest thing for me is not about employment and stuff like that. I think employment is a symptom of some of the other workers being done. And so, the most important thing to me is that people want to stay alive and to stay out of prison. So, we have an 11% two-year recidivism rate all time.  That’s since inception in 2011. but if you look at any given cohort it’s normally especially over the past few years, it’s well below 10%; even sometimes we below 5% on any given year. That’s the vast majority of the people that come through this program are able to stay out of prison which is the main thing that we’re focused on.

We build long-term relationships with people. We continue to stay in touch with them as they stumble, as they fall, as they make mistakes. We’re there like Ra said, to lend that ear and to give that support. We have people that go to work. About 85% of them are working a year later. So, that’s a huge point of pride for us as well.

You know, there are a number of other metrics, but what’s really important to us is long-term success. I think a lot of worforce development organizations feel pressure from funders to get those placement numbers, and they get them, you know. But how long are they working there after, right? Are they still working there three, six… you know, one year or two years later? And you’re starting to see a lot more workforce agencies utilize those long-term metrics, and that’s what’s really important because we can rapid attachment to the workforce all day, but are we really providing an equitable supportive approach that’s responsive to the unique challenges on why people aren’t working in the first place?

You know, I could hook somebody up to the job right away when they come home, but if I’m not being realistic about the challenges they’re facing outside of work, that’s not going to last. That’s the important thing to us and that’s what we kind of pride ourselves on.

29:49 Cynthia Rojas 

Wow, that’s great. Ra, I want to end with you, and I wonder, what are employers missing out on? What should those who are not hiring because of past records, what is it that they need to know? Because they’re obviously missing out on a workforce that is willing and eager to work.

30:17 Ra Hashim

I believe everybody deserves a second chance. I don’t really see the need for the box. I don’t really see the need of… you know, depending on the situation, you constantly have to explain yourself when you go to the job, because I know of my second job, I got the job but I remember her depending I put the interview once but I ended up getting interviewed four times. So, I had to come in three other times just to constantly explain you know, where I’m at right now, what my charge is right now, and how there’s no problem right now. So, I think this isn’t the time to just… you know, they do over-analytics. They do research off of the business all the time. Boards do it. Entrepreneurs do it. I think that couldn’t be looked into the felons and look into just the like you know, all those things, the high rate of people not going back. Just do your research. We had a different time, you know, more information being provided, so we shouldn’t be moving still in the old model, okay.

But these brothers and sisters coming home, they deserve a chance. You know, you’re saying that you can’t get nobody to work for you. Let’s try this route. There are other tings.

31:31 Cynthia Rojas

I love that. I love that. All right guys, well, this has been an amazing conversation and I have to tell you, I may bring you back because one of the other topics that we’ve been wanting to tap into is mental health in the workplace, and that is definitely new for many organizations that are having to deal with what they learned during the pandemic, is that we really saw a surge in mental health. And for some people that issue was always there. We just got to see it more. So, we definitely want to have a conversation about that and I want and I want to thank our viewers for watching and for our listeners for listening. We’ll see you next Friday. Don’t go away, guys.

Pieta Blakely

About Pieta Blakely

I help mission-based organizations measure their impact so that they can do what they do well. I started my nonprofit career as a teacher in workforce development and adult basic education. It was important work and I was worried that we didn’t really know if we were doing it well. In the process of trying to answer that question, I got a Masters in Education and a PhD in Social Policy, and became an evaluator.

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