Saichelle McNeill believes in second chances. The owner of Washroom Laundry in Charlotte has found her newest employee through LifeWorks!, an employment program that helps people with criminal records reach their professional goals.
For Saichelle, finding an employee through LifeWorks! has been a win-win. She gets a team member who worked with a LifeWorks! client advisor and also benefited from intensive job training, and her employee gets an opportunity to support his or her family.
Formerly incarcerated people have an unemployment rate of over 27% — higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression. And people with criminal records want to work, but research shows they face structural barriers, especially right after their release. (Prison Policy Initiative)
"I thought I could break down some of the barriers that the men and women in LifeWorks! might encounter in the job market," says Saichelle, who has owned Washroom Laundry since 2016. She thought about "the box" — the one you have to check on a job application indicating that you have a criminal record. "People automatically think checking that box is going to disqualify them, and that feeling could set someone off on a path of physical and psychological destruction. I wanted to eliminate that feeling for someone."
So what does LifeWorks! do for people with criminal records? The short answer is: everything. Located at the Goodwill Opportunity Campus in Charlotte, LifeWorks! helps with employment readiness, job searches, networking, referrals to community organizations, career development, coaching, resume writing, and transportation assistance. They have all the bases covered so their clients can prepare to reenter the workforce and support their families.
LifeWorks! is just one program offered by the Center for Community Transitions (CCT), a nonprofit that has been reimagining public safety in Charlotte for over 40 years through its person-first programs. CCT works to strengthen our community by helping people with criminal records and their families find a healthier and more productive way of living.
Louweldon is a LifeWorks! graduate who recently started working for Saichelle at Washroom Laundry. "The people that teach LifeWorks! are awesome people," he says. "They really try their best to help you and they go the extra mile. And they're people I can relate to."
As a small business owner and a compassionate person, Saichelle is not concerned with Louweldon's past. "I am only concerned with his future and how we are going to grow together," she says. "It makes a world of difference for people with criminal records to find stable employment. When someone is able to take care of themselves, their self-esteem shoots through the roof. We all want to feel like we are doing our part, and if people aren't working, they feel like they can't do their part."
There is also a financial benefit to employing people with criminal records. It's called the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), and it's a federal program available to employers who hire people from specific groups facing significant barriers to employment.
Now that Louweldon has a stable job, he's ready to make up for lost time. The self-described family man works full-time at Washroom Laundry, which provides residential and commercial dry cleaning and laundry services. When he's not working, he loves being at home with his fiancé and seeing his adult children, who visit often.
"A month before my release, I started praying all the time," says Louweldon. "I told God, if you give me a job and put a nice woman in my life, then I won't break the law anymore, and I'll get on the right track. He surrounded me with positive people. I have my own car, I am in a nice home, and I'm about to get married." And, thanks to LifeWorks! and Saichelle, he got the job.
You can support LifeWorks! and CCT by visiting centerforcommunitytransitions.org. Give Saichelle, Louweldon and Washroom Laundry your business or your social media love by following @washroomlaundry on Instagram.
VOTE NOW: Center for Community Transitions is in the running to win $5K this month thanks to the Amy and Brian France Foundation who have partnered with SHARE Charlotte for this year’s Spotlight Series and YOU can help when you VOTE NOW! You can also check out the other organizations eligible to win this month’s prize, here!
Grace Kennedy is a Huntersville-based writer specializing in storytelling fornonprofits. Learn more at gracekennedy.net.