Leon El-Alamin was tempted to give up his new way of life.
Back home from prison, the north side Flint native struggled to support himself. Finding no success through programs that were designed help him get employed, he slept on his mother’s sofa.
“I couldn’t even buy a pair of underwear,” El-Alamin recalls.
While serving several years for a drug conviction, he found spiritual direction through Islam, but now he was tempted to return to hustling that would bring fast cash.
Fortunately, El-Alamin stayed the legal course, eventually getting a job and founding the MADE Institute to support other ex-offenders. Knowing the struggles ex-offenders often face after prison helped inspire MADE’s new Empowering People through Innovation and Knowledge (EPIK) initiative. The state-supported, skilled trades training is scheduled to launch a six-week cohort at MADE, 4119 Saginaw St. April 30.
“We realized that there needed to be more of a safety net in some of the wraparound services we’re trying to do,” El-Alamin says.
EPIK provides ex-offenders a career safety net of sorts, through development that goes beyond initial job placement, he says. Eighteen men and women will begin the training structured around lead abatement in Flint homes. The first EPIK group is comprised of ex-offenders in the MADE program and others identified as at greater risk of incarceration.
“That’s always been a part of our mission and vision statement,” says El-Alamin. “We get a lot of folks who are 17 or 18, just dropped out of high school. Without intervention, we consider them at risk.”
EPIK is supported with a state grant for training to produce qualified contractors who’ll help make Flint’s homes safe from lead. The instruction will also include related renovation skills like drywall preparation, painting, siding installation, and proper cleaning methods.
“We didn’t just want individuals to have skills in lead abatement removal. We wanted them to have skills in other jobs when the lead abatement need slows down,” El-Alamin says.
The Detroit Training Center will facilitate EPIK’s training from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the cohort, also providing participants with Environmental Protection Agency certification and Occupational Safety and Health Administration knowledge. MADE will add soft skills support, marketing and outreach.
Travis Poland, statewide workforce development coordinator for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, says his goal was to partner with a program that stressed reentry from prison when he began overseeing the Healthy Homes program. Three-quarters of the effort’s training budget will be invested in Flint.
“Not only is there the water crisis that has garnered publicity, but that brings to attention the degradation of the homes in Flint, due to poverty, which brings about the lead-based paint hazard,” Poland says.
“There’s a pretty drastic shortage of contractors to complete this work,” he says of lead abatement.
Poland, who will attend the training, says he hopes to see not just contractors, but future business owners emerge from EPIK.
“I’ll be working with the trainees for job placement and, ultimately, professional development,” he says.
MADE has had success, certifying 10 Flint returning citizens for employment they maintain today, after a 2016 partnership with Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. But EPIK is a milestone in MADE’s efforts to provide ex-offenders with layered – personal and professional – support. El-Alamin says one of four residents in “MADE House,” the transitional living facility opened this year, will attend training.
Grateful that state officials like Poland recognize value in supporting returning citizens, El-Alamin stresses the private sector can also benefit. Work Opportunity Tax Credits reduce federal tax liability for companies that hire ex-felons on a per-employee basis.
MADE programs are designed to make returning citizens appealing to job recruiters.
“We’re showing that what we have to offer is unique, it hasn’t been done, and it’s needed,” adds El-Alamin. “We feel that this is what the community needs.”
Editor’s Note: The state-supported, skilled trades training is scheduled to launch a six-week cohort at MADE, 4119 Saginaw St. on April 30. For additional information visit http://www.madeinstitute.org
Lead photo courtesy of The Journal of Light Construction