Jobs are already hard to come by and even harder if you have a record. A man in Grand Rapids is working to change that and his efforts are getting a big boost from coffee giant Starbucks.
"There's a lot of hurting people in our city and especially when they're coming out of jail, prison or rehab," Scott Jonkhoff told FOX 17 News. "They're desperate for an opportunity, especially an opportunity where they can succeed. My heart goes out to them."
Since 2008, Jonkhoff has been on a mission to hire those other employers often won't. He founded the non-profit ministry 'Next Step of West Michigan' to give those people a job--and a second chance.
Next Step started small. Jonkhoff said at first there were just a handful of workers who completed various construction projects around the community. The organization has since worked with Habitat for Humanity and is also a community development partner with the city of Grand Rapids.
"Not only are they earning a wage, but they're building that opportunity to move on, and have us as a reference," explained Jonkhoff. "To see the reward of honest labor, and getting paid a fair wage for the work that they do. Being able to provide for them and their families, that's [why I do this]."
In recent weeks, the small non-profit along South Division in Grand Rapids has attracted the attention of major chain Starbucks Coffee. The business has contracted the group to assemble thousands of bracelets to be sold in its coffee shops across the country. The news meant Jonkhoff had to increase his unique workforce from 12 to 42 in about three weeks.
"Our story got to Starbucks and Starbucks likes the idea of what's going on here," said Jonkhoff. "It happened overnight, and now we've got up to 30 people who didn't have any work."
Construction equipment has been installed in the back of the 'Next Step' building and a thriving assembly operation puts together as many as 25,000 bracelets a day.
The red, white and blue wristbands are currently being sold for a $5.00 donation to create jobs. All the money raised goes toward the Opportunity Finance Network to create funds to lend to businesses and organizations who need capital to hire more workers.
Leticia Zamora-Scarre is just one of the workers benefiting from the deal locally. The mother of five had a tough time finding work when she was
released from prison three months ago after serving a two year sentence for identity theft.
"This is our second chance, for a lot of people that work here, this is a second chance, a new beginning," said Zamora-Scarre. "We're building a family here. A lot of people would never think about putting the people that we have together...it's worked out perfect."
Next Step is starting workers around $8 dollars an hour. But, it's about more than just the money. There's a waiting list and stack of applications from people like Zamora-Scarre who just want the chance to prove themselves.
"We all have baggage, we've all wanted that second chance to put things behind us, and here they have that clean slate," explained Marcus Schmidt, a supervisor in charge of hiring at Next Step. "They have self worth. We've opened up the door to give people that hope, and when you do that, it's amazing what comes out of it. They work hard, they're hungry."
Jonkhoff anticipates hiring even more workers as the demand for the Starbucks bracelets grows. It's not clear how long the chain will be contracted with Next Step to use their services.
Jonkhoff added as long as his workers continue to deliver, he's hoping the Starbucks deal will open the door for even more employment opportunities with other businesses.
"It's very rewarding to see people when they're given an opportunity to succeed and an environment to succeed in," said Jonkhoff. "It's very rewarding, and I love it."
For more information on Next Step, click here.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times