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Center for Employment Opportunities champions second chances

The Eagles continue to support nonprofits that work to reduce barriers to opportunity and end racism. In support of Black History Month, the Eagles are proud to recognize the work of one of these nonprofits each day.

Every Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) staffer can easily rattle off several success stories.

For Lateefah Strickland, the site director at the Philadelphia office, it's a juvenile lifer – someone sentenced to life in prison for a crime committed before turning 18 years old – who went behind bars at 14 years old and was released at 42. It took three months before the individual could find a job, but he eventually obtained a driver's license, bought a car, and rented an apartment. Strickland was proud that CEO could be a part of so many firsts.

For Sam Hanna, CEO's business development coordinator for the entire Mid-Atlantic and Upstate New York Regions, it was a 40-year-old who spent half of his life in prison. Unable to find a job due to his record, the gentleman grew so frustrated that he contemplated taking his own life. His friends and family convinced him otherwise, and he eventually landed a job with Philadelphia's non-emergency civil services department (311), where he's now a supervisor.

"I live here, I work here, and I want to help sustain and uplift the community that has helped me. But at the end of the day, I think we're all doing the work we do because we have a certain level of empathy within us, and we have a certain level of drive to just uplift whoever it is. If I can help, I'm here to help," Hanna said.

For Jackie Weinberger, the Mid-Atlantic regional director for CEO, it's the story of Abd'Allah Lateef, a juvenile lifer who was 17 when he was put behind bars and released after three decades in prison. A Philadelphia native, Lateef advocates for sentencing reform and is on the board of CEO.

The United States is home to 5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of its prison population. CEO works with individuals coming out of prison to help them reimagine what the next 5, 10, 15 years of their lives could look like. CEO can't change the past, but wants to focus on the future.

"They didn't start their race the same way that many of us did," Strickland says.

"People coming home are often facing discrimination. They're not receiving the same opportunities," says Jovanni Ortiz, director of communications and marketing for CEO.

And the pandemic has only made the struggle worse.

"They are now up against the many other individuals who are also unemployed, who don't have backgrounds, who don't have a criminal history, who are obviously going to get chosen first," Strickland says.

CEO's message is that the organization will work with you to find employment. Strickland notes that the individuals re-entering society have the work ethic and motivation, but the rejection can often take a toll. CEO seeks to get people in the workforce to avoid the pitfalls that led them astray in the first place.

"It begins to rebuild some of that motivation," Strickland says. "If you can do it here, you can do it in other jobs, and we're going to help market you to other businesses who are open to second-chance employers so you can continue down this road."

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