Historic City News photojournalist Michael Boen traveled from St Augustine to attend a press conference in Jacksonville Friday promoting the non-profit, Operation New Hope. A delegation visited Northeast Florida sites this week that highlighted the area’s economic boom.
Graduates of the organization’s “Ready4Work” program that assists convicted felons about to reenter the workforce, had the opportunity to speak about their experiences before a panel of high-level leaders that included Governor Ron DeSantis, Vice President Mike Pence, and Presidential Advisor and First Daughter, Ivanka Trump.
“God bless you both,” Pence told Charlotte Smith and Daniel McArthur after they talked about opportunities they discovered after completing the program. “This is a ready-to-work program that has really set the pace. It is a model; not only in Florida but for the United States.”
Founder of the Springfield “Operation New Hope”, Kevin Gay, described their program as work training for former prisoners. Training former inmates matches one goal of President Donald Trump’s “Pledge to the American Worker” initiative, which emphasizes retraining to help workers find opportunities in a growing economy. The Trump administration reports that employers have pledged to connect 12-million workers to good jobs.
Gay told the vice president that Operation New Hope, which has trained ex-inmates for 20 years, is benefitting from long-term shifts in attitudes among government agencies and employers. That change has led to more training opportunities, he said, such as a 40-hour warehouse logistics course offered through the University of North Florida.
Fourth Judicial District State Attorney, Melissa Nelson, reported that recidivism among Operation New Hope graduates is only one-third the rate for other inmates released from Florida prisons.
The Trump administration wants America to be “the worst place in the world” to be caught committing serious crimes, Vice President Pence remarked. “But we also want America to be the best place in the world, once you do your time, to get a second chance.”
“This is in the interests of the communities,” Ivanka Trump explained during the roundtable talk. “It benefits former inmates, their families and the people living around them. It’s just the right thing to do.”
Photo credits: © 2019 Historic City News photographer Michael Boen