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Columbus agency helps ex-offenders find jobs

Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans are currently looking for work. But, the task is more daunting for some, some with felonies in their background. But, a small social service agency in Columbus is working both behind bars and in a local neighborhood to help ex-offenders find

At a small commercial building in the 9-hundred block of East Main Street...a group of men and women gathers on a Tuesday morning to troll internet employment sites and learn skills to help them re-enter the job market. Agency spokeswoman, Dawn Chodorow says job-seekers at Community Connection must meet a single criterion to get resume tips and job leads. "We accept anyone that we can prove does have a felony in their history." Chodorow heads "Re-entry" Services" for Community Connection. She describes the the 14 year old east side non-profit as a "second chance agency" for convicted felons who've served their time in prison and now want to build a life free of crime.

33 year old Brian Bowman of Columbus says he was behind bars "close to two years." He's working now but he's looking for a better job as an accountant. "I'm trying to get the job that I want instead of just needing a job. Its a big difference now if you've got a job that you want you'll stay there and you'll be more happy about your work and that's what their helping me do here. I mean I am currently employed but I'm trying to get a job that I want that I can be happy about getting to work not just 'aw man I got to go to work today.'Bowman said.

Community connection helps Bowman and others with resume tips and job interviews.Randy Baker is a caseworker at Community Connection. He says each year tens of thousands of prisoners are released in Ohio and job-seeking skills are critical. "The job market is tough enough for those that don't have a felony background or don't have a criminal background to find employment so you can imagine what it would be like for this other 30-thousand." Baker said.

The flip side of the job picture for felons is the hiring manager willing to offer them a job. Keith Stevens is President and Chief Executive officer of Labor Team. The company specializes in finding workers for light industries. Stevens also serves on the board of Community Connection. He says ex-offenders make up about 20 percent of his labor force. "And I'll say this we've not had any major issues. we've not had anyone killed or raped. And, I've been operating since 1992." Stevens estimates he's done 40 million to 50 million dollars worth of business since 1992 and has had but one claim against his company of 4-thousand dollars for theft. Stevens his decision to employ ex-offenders is bottom line based.

Back at the computer terminals, Brian Bowman keeps looking for that accounting job. he's got three children and he says they provide constant motivation. "I have to get to a point to where I can leave them something if something was to happen to me. The former life I had if I was to die I wouldn't have been able to leave them nothing. I'm quite sure that, you see on T-V people have inheritances and wills and all that. I want to be like that too. I want them to be able to have a house or just at least be proud of their dad or what not, instead of just coming to visit me behind a glass or behind bars or what not. Bowman said.