Mentorship Program pairs inmates with local businesses

HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) – A mentoring program under the Chaplaincy Division of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department is working with local businesses to provide recently-released inmates with jobs, housing and other essential needs.

TOWER, the Transitioning Opportunities for Work, Education, & Reality program, pairs inmates with a mentor that meets with them in the jail and after their release, helping them navigate the barriers they may face upon reintroduction to society.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Project Coordinator Kelly Gunn said the goal of the program is to build better citizens for Hamilton County by investing in and preparing inmates for successful reentry.

“Participants in this program have shown the desire to break the cycle of incarceration,” says Gunn. “Our goal is to provide them with secure housing, transportation, and employment.”

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush tells Inside INdiana Business the program is unique in its effort to take a one on one approach with inmates and find a plan that is tailored specifically for them to be successful as an individual.

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“The program is more than a work program, it’s really designed to try to provide individual attention remove barriers for inmates as they’re preparing to leave the jail to make them more successful and hopefully less likely to recommit crimes to re-offend and to make them more productive members of society.”  

Gunn selects inmates for the program and pairs them with a qualified mentor that provides face to face guidance and support. The inmates are connected with local businesses that partner with the program to explore job possibilities upon release.

The TOWER program seeks to help the inmates by getting them started down what Gunn calls “the right trajectory” while also feeding into the local economy and helping businesses bridge employment gaps.

“Given the talent environment right now, we’ve got to tap into this wealth of human capitol,” says Chuck Haberman, Leader of Workforce Development at Indianapolis-based Gaylor Electric. “Unemployment is at an all-time low and its cutthroat. Everyone worth hiring has a job. Tapping into other talent pools that some other organizations aren’t willing to tap into is imperative.”

Haberman says he has hired a half dozen people through the TOWER program over the past three years.

The TOWER program is funded by local donors and business owners in Hamilton County, including Gaylor Electric, Custom Concrete, ID Castings, Metro Plastics, Burco Molding, Ginger’s Café, and Mill Top Banquet and Conference Center.

Gunn says the mentorship part of the program has been the driving force and a key piece of the program’s success.

Although the program is currently focused on Hamilton County, both Gunn and Quakenbush say they hope it can serve as a model for future programs throughout the state and that TOWER is actively seeking mentors and partner companies.

“I’m always looking for more mentors, and I’m always looking for employers that have a heart for this kind of mission. Also, I am a completely privately-funded program, I am funded by local business owners in Hamilton County, so that’s always a need to continue sustainable funding , so always looking to meet employers who would love to meet some great candidates, that they have a heart for giving people second chances and seeing people thrive,” said Gunn. 

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