Cleveland Social Venture Partners’ Social Innovation Series:
Prisoner Reentry and its Impact on our Economy
By Bishara Addison (SVP Fellow)
“Every successful social innovator or movement has succeeded because it planted the seeds of an idea into many minds.” So says Geoff Mulgan, the Director of the Young Foundation in the U.K., who explores the enduring nature of social innovation in his article “The Process of Social Innovation.” However, he also stresses that ”social change depends on many people being persuaded to abandon old habits.” Fortunately, in Cleveland there are many organizations working on initiatives and strategies to tackle an area which he believes is experiencing a “severe innovation deficit”-- crime and punishment.
The United States happens to be the world's leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation's prisons or jails. Many of those incarcerated return to our communities; in Ohio, for instance, 45.3% of those in state prisons serve less than a year in prison, serving time for mostly drug and property offenses. 4,030 of those that left Ohio’s state prisons in 2011 (17% of total) returned to Cuyahoga County. With the annual cost of incarceration at $25,225 per inmate, smart, cost-effective and evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism are critical not only for state budgets, but also for the individual, their families, and the economic strength of the neighborhoods they return to.
On September 27th, 2012, Social Venture Partners of Cleveland focused on prisoner reentry for its Social Innovation Series event. SVP secured Edward Little, the Policy Analyst & Legislative Advocacy Coordinator for the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry, as the moderator; Erika Anthony, the Director of Business Services for Oriana Inc.; Mike McKenzie, a restored citizen and worker-owner under Evergreen Cooperatives; Jill Rizika, the Executive Director for Towards Employment; Maureen Pansky, the Human Resources Manager, for Dots Inc.; and Senator Shirley Smith who represents Ohio’s 21st District and is one of the lead sponsors for a new law designed to reduce barriers to reentry for those with criminal histories.
Hearkening back to Mulgan’s article, each one of the panelists uses a combination of “ingredients of social innovation” to tackle the issue of reentry and its impact on economic development. Erika Anthony was formerly the project coordinator for GCIRP (Greater Cleveland Integrated Reentry Project), a three-year pilot project with a goal of reducing recidivism using evidence-based practices. Given that Cuyahoga County’s three-year recidivism rate from 2008 stands at 34.7%, our county has a real need to study what models work best for individuals returning to our community. GCIRP provided wrap-around supports pre- and post-release from prison and cultivated a network of partners that clients could be referred to. This project also served as a convener and provided many trainings and workshops on topics ranging from fair housing for those formerly incarcerated to how to start a small business, the impact of incarceration on children and families, voter education, and training on HIV/AIDs. It’s clear that GCIRP incorporated several ingredients of innovation, using “creative combinations” and “testing best practices.”
Mike Mckenzie, the next panelist, was formerly incarcerated himself but has turned his life around and now hires individuals for his cooperative, even some who also have criminal histories. McKenzie is a worker-owner for Evergreen Energy Solutions (formerly Ohio Cooperative Solar), one of the businesses under Evergreen Cooperatives. Prior to incarceration, McKenzie was a certified electrician. When the economic recession hit, he was laid off. Now, as a worker-owner, he uses his 17 years of experience as an electrician to supervise employees, handle project logistics from project to end, and hire other individuals with criminal histories. What is innovative about this model is that the cooperatives are addressing a need by creating job opportunities that have the potential to pay more than the median household income in the Greater University Circle Neighborhoods which is $18,500 per year as of 2012. Evergreen is an evolving initiative. The worker-owners have more than just an equity stake in a company; they have the ability to participate in making important decisions about the operations and direction of the company. Because the Evergreen Cooperatives like Ohio Cooperative Solar hire many with criminal histories, this model is helping those who typically lack access build wealth for themselves and their families. This is a model which has the potential to “spread innovation” by growing, building collaborations, and franchising.
When Jill Rizika took her turn, she stressed that Towards Employment was using five ingredients of social innovation: straddling boundaries between disciplines; building partnerships and collaboration; assessing progress; building organizational capacity; and committing to continually learn and adapt. By combining social services with workforce development, Towards Employment provides a menu of services for clients recognizing that everyone coming into the program has a unique job pathway. In order to provide a menu of services, Towards Employment has to “partner and collaborate” with other agencies like Oriana, Recovery Resources, AmeriCorps, and prisons. In order to show progress, Towards Employment uses a relational database to “assess” program performance and outcomes. This organization also understands that using a best practice is not enough; you must have the right people to implement the right practices, and with an agency like Towards Employment that uses a dual customer approach with employers and clients, “organizational capacity” is key. Finally, Towards Employment is “continually learning,” evolving its curriculum, and exploring new approaches to help individuals striving for a second chance. With this combination of innovative ingredients, Towards Employment was able to place 310 individuals with criminal histories in jobs during 2011 and is expected to place 400 by the end of 2012 with a 64% job retention rate compared with Ready 4 Work (a national demonstration project) whose job retention rate for ex-offenders was 34%.
SVP also had an employer on the panel -- Maureen Pansky, the HR manager for Dots, Inc. As an employer, she represents an interesting perspective on reentry and its intersection with employment. Currently, 28% of Dots’ hourly staff have been involved with the criminal justice system. According to Maureen, “we learned how to spot the right talent better, regardless of background.” Some of the tools they use to spot the right talent include simply following federal policies on how to consider criminal background checks enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Of those with histories employed by Dots, 60% have advanced on the job, and 70% have been recognized within the past 12 months for exceptional attendance. Maureen believes that one of the reasons her staff have been successful is that they have a financially sound, supportive family network, are engaged fully in recovery from addictions, and have identified a strong faith-based network of support.
Lastly, Senator Smith participated on the panel to provide information on a new piece of legislation in Ohio that she sponsored which is designed to reduce barriers to employment. Much of the bill is just common sense policy that she has been an advocate of for over a decade. However, there is one feature that stands out among the rest—the Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE). Currently eight states have some sort of certificate model that aims to reduce the impact of barriers to employment for those with criminal histories. The certificate models vary across states and have different eligibility requirements. What makes Ohio’s certificate unique is that the CQE offers negligent hiring protection to employers and is available to any offender regardless of the type of conviction.
Clearly, there are elected officials, employers, non-profits, and initiatives that are working to address the impact that reentry has on unemployment and families. Each of these sectors is using a different approach in using ingredients of innovation, but we still have a long way to go. According to a study from Pew Charitable Trusts, family income averaged over the years for a father who is incarcerated is 22% lower than family income the year before a father is incarcerated. The year after the father is released, family income remains 15% lower than it was the year before incarceration. The economic impact of incarceration extends beyond the individual. In order to truly move the needle to catalyze social change, we need to continue looking at how the different strategies above can be used together, recognizing that solutions to these pressing issues are not always inherently new, they just need better alignment.
Investee Profile: Open Doors Academy
Open Doors Academy is an out-of-school enrichment program that nurtures, protects, inspires and challenges adolescents to reach their full potential by providing diverse and individualized programming in a safe and structured environment. ODA addresses students’ academic, emotional and social wellbeing in its year-round programming that includes an extended learning program, summer learning, a high school alumni program, and a parent/family support network.
Lead Partner Dominique Litmaath River and Open Doors Academy CEO Annemarie Grassi are a formidable team. Bright, articulate, committed and energetic, these women have combined forces during Open Doors Academy’s first year as a Cleveland SVP investee.
Annemarie believes that SVP’s collaboration with Open Doors Academy will increase ODA’s organizational visibility and enhance its financial sustainability, staffing retention, and overall program quality. To that end, Dominique and Annemarie have completed a high-level assessment of the organization, and are now targeting needs in specific areas and developing workplans for projects that will tap the skills of SVP partners. Annemarie has found “SVP’s organization assessment process with staff and board members to be helpful in clarifying the organization’s strengths and needs, and it reassured us that we all see things moving forward in the same direction. This provides us the building blocks for a solid foundation and platform for growth.”
ODA opened its doors in 1992 as an afterschool drop-in program for youth living in high-risk environments at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights. In 2002, ODA became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, providing daily, structured programming for 40 middle school students each year. It now serves over 320 youth and 700 family members annually at 5 middle school sites and 3 high school communities in Greater Cleveland. ODA students participate in project-based learning experiences such as core enrichment programs and academic tutoring built around their developmental needs, full-day summer camps, and service learning trips. ODA believes in building a safe haven, creating a sense of community, and fostering the kid’s confidence, self-discipline, and skill levels—ultimately empowering them to reach their dreams. ODA creates this supportive environment by engaging parents, teachers, and other community partners. According to Dominique, what is “paramount to ODA’s success is the organization’s ability to engage parents.” She has been working with ODA’s Director of Community Engagement, Ashlie Dyer, to “identify ways to further enhance the experience and sustainability of the already outstanding parent involvement in ODA’s programs and services.” In addition, ODA is further developing partnerships with key organizations in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio to provide resources, expertise and innovative programs. For example, this summer the Cleveland Clinic sponsored ODA’s Inner Athlete summer camp for ODA kids. At this camp, students have a chance to learn about what it really takes to be a successful athlete – including nutrition, exercise, body maintenance, and endurance – as well as meet doctors who specialize in sports medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Sports Health.
ODA’s accomplishments are impressive:
• ODA is the only program in Northeast Ohio that offers a 7-year continuum of support for students from middle school through high school and beyond.
• In Cleveland, only 52% of students who enter the 9th grade graduate from high school. Of those, only 23% will go to college and only 7% will graduate from college in six years. ODA’s program boasts a lifetime 100% high school graduation rate since its incorporation in 2002. Of its graduates, 91% have gone on to college, and its first class of three graduated from college this year.
ODA was recently selected as one of the organizations that the Afterschool Alliance
(a national organization) will be using as a model program in its national resource on afterschool impact.
ODA has been named a 2012 Top-Rated Children and Families Nonprofit by GreatNonprofits
• This past year, 98% of ODA parents completed their service requirement, contributing over 2,825 hours throughout the program year.
• As a result of the individualized support ODA’s students receive from professional tutors, 69% of students at one site improved in reading, up from only 21% improvement the year before.
• At Miles Park Middle School (a school designated as being in academic emergency), of the students who were enrolled in ODA’s program for 90 days or more during 2010-2011, 60% saw grade improvements in reading and 53% saw grade increases in math. By the end of the fourth quarter, absolutely zero students had failing marks in either math or reading!
• This is the first year ODA has partnered with businesses to provide intern opportunities for its high school alumni. 41 students were placed at organizations as Shaker Lakes Nature Center, MetroHealth, Cleveland Clinic, Willoughby Hills Animal Clinic, Cleveland Heights Recreation Center, Case Western Reserve University, and Community Shares.
As powerful as these statistics are, there’s nothing like the personal touch. Annemarie caught the crowd’s attention at SVP’s 2011 bigBANG!
conference last fall. After hearing seven electrifying Fast Pitch presentations, the crowd chose ODA as the nonprofit they would most like to donate. Click here
to see and hear Annemarie’s riveting Fast Pitch.
ODA believes that learning is not confined to childhood or the classroom alone, but takes place throughout life and in a wide range of situations. Both Annemarie and Dominique exemplify this commitment to life-long learning themselves. Prior to her ten years with ODA, Annemarie worked as an educational consultant and therapist with children and adolescents living with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and traumatic brain injury. She received her B.A. with Honors in Psychology from Ohio University, her Master of Science in Education in Child and Adolescent Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently working on her Doctorate in Urban Education at Cleveland State University. A recipient of numerous awards, Annemarie received the 2011 Athena Young Professional Leadership Award and was recently chosen as the 2012-13 president-elect of the Junior League of Cleveland. Dominique adds her own raves about Annemarie describing her as “really sharp, focused and unwaveringly committed to ODA, its mission, and most importantly the children. On top of this, she is interesting and fun to work with.”
Dominique believes they can both learn a lot from each other as they work together to “identify ways to engage SVP in this truly life-changing organization.” Click here
to read more about Annemarie.
SVP’s Dominique Litmaath River lends her considerable expertise and broad vision to this collaboration. A dual Dutch and American citizen, Dominique is a management consultant who previously led the global sales compensation and international benefits team at Robert Half International, was a managing consultant at Towers Perrin, and had a career in sales management at Hilton Hotels Corporation. Dominique earned an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and currently sits on the executive committee of the school’s alumni network board of directors. Dominique is also the co-founder and board president of the Dutch language after-school program here in Northeast Ohio. Although Dominique’s relationship with ODA has only just begun, Annemarie describes her contributions in glowing terms: “Dominique has been an awesome lead partner! She has dedicated time and energy, and has remained forever flexible with our ever-changing schedules. She is focused and committed to our work and is working to steer us in the right direction. We are grateful for her involvement and support!”
Open Doors Academy-SVP Engagement
Vital Statistics as of July 15, 2012
Dominique Litmaath River
Value of grants
Cash value of volunteer hours
Indirect Contributions (other donations)
Total Value of SVP Impact to date
Leverage value of SVP grant
$2,000 (conservative rate $100/hr)
Open Doors Academy impact
20 years of service
100% high school graduation rate
90% average attendance
88% receive grade C or better in reading
89% receive grade C or better in math
98% of parents volunteer with ODA (2,825 hours)
Open Doors Academy
13 FT; 11 contract/PT
200 middle school & 120 high school students
5 schools (90% low-income)
SVP Volunteer Projects
Community Engagement Strategy
Employee Handbook Review
PARTNER PROFILE: BISHARA ADDISON
Two expressions spring to mind with SVP Fellow Bishara Addison: “Good things come in small packages” and “Small but mighty.” Though diminutive in stature, her passions and knowledge loom large as do her aspirations to bring resources to the neighborhoods and communities she knows and loves. She describes how inspired she is by the “hidden gems of neighborhoods which show America at its best” like the Kinsman community garden which flourishes amidst blight and disinvestment or the public libraries in Cleveland which burst with “polite kids who are really using them.” Above all, Bishara is “driven by the idea that Cleveland is on its way to beautiful neighborhoods in which to live, work and prosper.”
But Bishara is no passive observer of Cleveland’s renaissance. Bishara credits her family with exposing her to social justice at the dinner table. In fact, she describes herself as “genetically wired to care about social issues.” Her mother was a stay-at-home mother dedicated to their family while her father was a teacher and administrator in the Cleveland and Shaker Schools for over fifty years and an activist devoted to such organizations as the NAACP, the Urban League, project Push Excel, and the Ebony Bobcat Network. Bishara’s family even has a curious connection to the League House, home of SVP Cleveland, at which they have held family Kwanzaa parties frequently over the years. In fact, Bishara’s family (which is spread throughout the country) is itself run like a nonprofit or even a small corporation. They are well-organized with budgets, agendas, and commitments to the greater good of family members, young and old. No wonder Bishara’s sense of compassion and commitment is so powerful.
After growing up in Shaker Heights and attending its schools, Bishara moved to Washington, D.C. to attend George Washington University. While pursuing her degree in Political Science, Bishara became involved in LIFT-DC which helped move families out of poverty and train young leaders for the future. As the student director of the D.C. office, Bishara became steeped in volunteer training, management, and recruitment – skills which will benefit many of SVP’s investees. These skills also dovetail with many of Bishara’s current responsibilities at Towards Employment where she is involved in the planning and execution of numerous community events around social justice and reentry in addition to her extensive policy and advocacy work with Executive Director Jill Rizika.
Bishara has cemented her observations about human nature with her exposure to Desmond Tutu’s book, No Future Without Forgiveness, in which he raises the concept of “ubuntu” which essentially translates as “my humanity is caught up, and inextricably bound in yours.” Bishara further defines this term as “a form of self-interest that unites rather than divides” and states that our “belief in this concept allows us to be capable of social change.” Bishara is committed to improving the circumstances of others by helping them empower themselves through collaboration and connection. She has discovered that all the groups for which she has worked believe in this human interconnectedness and in the essential “intersection of diverse and siloed networks to change social outcomes.” She hopes someday to be seen as a great thought leader who contributes to developing essential community resources which lead to powerful outcomes and “make the vision happen.”
Perhaps Bishara’s early days as a member of Ropes of Thunder in which she excelled at jump roping on a pogo stick was a harbinger of the heights she would soon scale in her professional life. Without a doubt, SVP is the happy beneficiary of Bishara’s talents and enthusiasm and vision.
PARTNER PROFILE: WALLY LANCI
Clevelander to the core
Although Wally is convinced that his friends would describe him as “gullible, compassionate and emotional,” Wally’s Bachelor’s degree in Marketing, his law degree from Cleveland-Marshall, and his commitment to his father’s business suggest a savvy, grounded businessman. In fact, it was Wally’s love of hearing about his father’s businesses as a child that prompted him to go to law school in the first place.
Born in Northfield, Wally and his family moved to Sagamore Hills where he and his two sisters attended Nordonia High School. While in high school, one of the oddest jobs Wally ever held was serving as a telemarketer for a basement waterproofing company. Wally quickly learned that he couldn’t use his nickname “Wally” during these random conversations. Either people couldn’t understand it or they would immediately make some reference to “Leave it to Beaver.” For purposes of this job, he was given the name “Michael.” Fortunately, Wally has been able to reclaim his name and move on to work which brings him far more pleasure.
In addition to his role as corporate counsel for his family’s business -- Consolidated Graphics Group, Inc. -- Wally loves playing with the Great Dane he recently got from the APL, working for the Human Rights Campaign, serving as VP of the Equality Ohio Education Fund, and going to the movies. He is co-chair of the August 25th Cleveland HRC Gala which attracts over 700 guests in support of Equality. Wally’s family donates time and money to a variety of causes including a “vision van” that has helped up to 5,000 kids in the last four years. The OneSight Foundation vision project identifies CMSD kids who need glasses.
Wally enjoys helping “others on their journey to happiness.” Rather than focusing on the end goals, Wally stresses he “enjoys the journey” itself. His own journey has contained more than a few personal challenges. Perhaps the most bracing was growing up gay in the Catholic Church. But he appears to be very much at peace with himself and with the mistakes he has made in the past. Two years ago his family formed the Lanci Moeritz Reville Family Foundation. They have been able to help struggling employees, mentor inner city youth on life skills, and assist people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a social safety net.
Wally’s future remains in the family business in Cleveland and with helping Cleveland businesses and the nonprofit community. Wally expressed his confidence in Cleveland’s momentum and described “the tidal wave of good things available in Cleveland.” Adding to the tidal wave are the energy, business acumen, and optimism Wally now shares with SVP. We thank partner Carrie Miller for bringing Wally to our shores.