On July 17, 2019, the US Department of Labor (DOL) announced nearly $86 million in grant awards through its Reentry Projects program, including a $1.5 million award to Indianapolis-based RecycleForce. RecycleForce is a social enterprise located on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis that focuses on the environmentally-sustainable disposal and destruction of electronics. Though electronic recycling is a vital and unique approach, what truly makes RecycleForce special is its commitment to hiring and training formerly incarcerated people who are transitioning back to society. This approach allows RecycleForce to maintain its business success while also providing life-changing support to many people returning to our community from the criminal justice system. This business model positions RecycleForce at the forefront of two important movements that are key to the development of the Near Eastside community. With continued support for their mission, and further success leveraging funds, RecycleForce will be able to sustain their efforts and lead the way in workforce development.
Pictured above: RecycleForce Employees disassemble electronics.
This new grant from the DOL will allow RecycleForce to further their mission by training 190 new individuals with a moderate or high risk of re-offense. RecycleForce will provide transitional employment to the people they are training while also working to help them obtain OSHA certification and industry-specific credentials. This approach accommodates the immediate need for income and stability that has proven to be a challenging barrier to those reentering the community, while also preparing them for further career and skill development. Over the grant’s two-year implementation period, individuals coming through the training program will have a unique chance to build the foundation for a career, something many formerly incarcerated people unfortunately never receive. By gaining employment and earning certifications, program participants will become attractive candidates for other jobs in high-demand industries. In order to help facilitate the implementation of the grant, RecycleForce is reactivating the Career Pathways Collaborative (CPC), a group made up of representatives from local organizations, including the IndyEast Promise Zone, that have a stake in the work RecycleForce is doing. This group includes law enforcement, employers, veterans groups, unions, service providers, legal aid, and workforce development organizations. The group will hold quarterly meetings throughout the grant implementation period in order to serve as an advisory board. The end goal is to help everyone in the program find long-term employment that pays a living wage, which will benefits both them and the communities they live and work in.
Pictured above: RecycleForce employees study for high school equivalency exams.
RecycleForce’s immense success has resulted from their commitment to helping people coming out of incarceration. One of the key pieces to building a business around this social mission has been understanding what it’s like for someone with a criminal record to return to a community. Reentry comes with many unique challenges that can make life difficult for people as they try to adjust. The combination of a criminal record and specific schedule requirements, such as attending mandated courses or meeting with a parole officer, make finding a good job difficult for formerly incarcerated people. Without employment and sustainable income, affording food and housing becomes an additional challenge. These factors can stack the odds against people and significantly raise the chance of re-offense. RecycleForce’s business model helps address these challenges before they pile up. At RecycleForce, employees are surrounded by people who support them and understand what they are going through. This environment provides the foundation on which people can develop their lives. The success of this approach and the capacity that RecycleForce has built have proven to be key factors in their ability to repeatedly leverage federal funds. This new federal grant is the fourth major federal award that has been awarded to RecycleForce since 2015, and the third from the DOL. This latest grant brings the total amount of federal funds awarded to RecycleForce over $5 million. The first grant, awarded through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Economic Development program, allowed for the creation of 40 full-time jobs and increased capacity to process recyclable materials by enabling the purchase of new equipment. The three latest grants, all through the DOL, have essentially functioned in the same way; providing transitional employment, training, and certification to formerly incarcerated individuals. The federal funding given to RecycleForce has not only helped hundreds of people find stability, but has also helped strengthen the Near Eastside community. RecycleForce President Gregg Keesling reiterated the importance of the community and how RecycleForce’s work plays a role in community development: “RecycleForce is proud to be located in the [IndyEast] Promise Zone and to be able to play a role in the Eastside revitalization by helping our citizens come back home and successfully reunify with their families and community.” Workforce development and crime reduction are two of the primary goals that have been prioritized by the IndyEast Promise Zone and Near Eastside neighbors through the Work IndyEast and Safe IndyEast platforms. RecycleForce’s success ties in directly with the goals outlined in these platforms, including the development of the workforce through job training and making the area safer by supporting neighborhoods and families affected by incarceration, specifically through reentry services. These priorities are vital to the success of the Near Eastside community and the prosperity of all neighbors. The continuing success and growth at RecycleForce will help the Near Eastside community reach a safer, more successful future.