Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Moving from gang life to a real job

Yonkers anti-gang initiative helps men find jobs

YONKERS - Growing up in the Schlobohm housing projects, Roberto Rodriguez witnessed a lot of violence and personal misfortune.
His own struggle with reading kept him from finishing high school and led to off-the-books jobs and drug use before he discovered a new initiative by the city's anti-violence coalition.

The Jobs for Life program has taught Rodriguez and about 280 local residents that they can dismantle roadblocks to full-time employment, education and personal success.

"After coming to this program, it made me feel confident in myself," said Rodriguez, 23, who was forced to leave the 10th grade two years ago because he was too old for public school. "I wish it was worldwide because there are a lot of people that need it, not only spiritually, but mentally."

Jobs for Life is an employment-preparation effort launched last month by the City of Yonkers Violence & Gang Prevention Coalition. It grew out of an attempt by the coalition's members to help unemployed and under-employed young men on Yonkers' west side find permanent employment as part of an effort to reduce crime, gang activity, drug use and other social dysfunction in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

The classes are taught by the coalition's chairman, Jim Bostic, and the coalition's faith-based committee leader, the Rev. James Hassell.

Hassell, 35, the pastor of Kingdom Baptist Church at 68 Palisade Ave., said he and Bostic launched Jobs for Life because they realized that they would not be successful finding jobs for young men with criminal backgrounds or low educational achievement if the men went to work as they were.

"We couldn't in good conscience send them out to the job market without giving them some of the preparation they would need to get a job," said Hassell, noting that many of the 700 people who came to an informational meeting about construction jobs last month had suspended drivers' licenses, drug-abuse issues and lacked high school diplomas.

Hassell held his morning classes in his church, and Bostic, also the executive director of the Nepperhan Community Center, ran his out of Gorton High School. Many participants attended both daily classes; three absences disqualified participants. Two weeks ago, 245 students graduated from the program and this past Friday, another 38 graduated.

The coalition will offer another round of the classes in February.

Rodriguez graduated last week. He attends literacy classes so he can get his General Educational Development degree. He also hopes to get training for security work, in addition to attending a workplace safety certificate program that the coalition will offer in February.

"Next week starts my journey in seeking what I want," said Rodriguez, who recently practiced job interviewing skills with Hassell.

Rodriguez said he also liked the program's spiritual message, which focused on helping him and others instead of demanding donations. Hassell delivered his messages in plain street talk, interweaving scriptural lessons with the realities of inner-city life.

Darnell Brown, 24, also graduated from the program last week.

"I feel I have a better outlook on life," said Brown, who also wants to get his GED degree.

"That's what's keeping me down," Brown said of his lack of a high school diploma. He left school in the ninth grade.

A previous conviction for disorderly conduct prevented Brown from pursuing a security guard job, but after finishing his probation and GED, Brown hopes to enlist in the National Guard to better support his two children.

Hassell and Bostic modeled their classes on a national program called Jobs for Life based in Raleigh, N.C. It's a faith-based initiative designed to provide job training and support to the nation's neediest citizens, with the goal of lifting participants from dependency to self-sufficiency.

Participants get help overcoming low self-esteem, child care, transportation, poor work ethic and a lack of educational and work skills, according to the Web site www.jobsforlife.com.

Spirituality is a prominent component of the Jobs for Life program. Last Thursday, Hassell discussed the biblical Book of Jonah.

Hassell said that the prophet's attempt to escape his destiny is similar to a mentality of underachievement common in urban neighborhoods like the ones that surround Kingdom Baptist Church.

"People are depending on you owning your manhood and your destiny," Hassell said of his students' families.

That day's lesson focused on job interview skills. Hassell offered tips on salary negotiation, researching a company before coming in for the interview and the importance of showing passion for work.

"You have to find that spark. You need to cleanse yourselves so that you can feel it," said Hassell. "A lot of our bad habits numb ourselves."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sex offender free neighborhoods

Sex offenders banned

New homes in Amarillo neighborhood to have deed restrictions

George Chapman: Principal partner.

The next homes to be built in The Woodlands will be off-limits to registered sex offenders.

New deed restrictions adopted by the G.R. Chapman Limited Partnership, developer of the northwest Amarillo subdivision, bar convicted sex offenders from owning or living, even temporarily, in homes there, said Kent Canada, an attorney for the company.

The restrictions will not affect owners or residents of the 550 homes that already exist in the subdivision. But they will be included in the deeds of homes to be constructed next and will be binding to those who purchase or live in those homes, Canada said.

"We want to try to have a community that is safe all the way around," Justin Chapman said.

The partnership's long-term plan calls for development of 7,800 acres containing as many as 31,000 homes "over the next 100 years," Chapman said.

The Woodlands subdivision is north of West Amarillo Boulevard and west of Western Street and extends west to Soncy Road. Additional land owned by the partnership extends northwestward, beyond the city limits, following Amarillo Creek.

The Chapman partnership isn't the first developer to bar sex offenders from a neighborhood, Canada said, citing the Milwaukee Ridge subdivision in Lubbock and others in New Jersey and Iowa.

Such restrictions have been challenged in court, "but those challenges have been unsuccessful," he said.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of race, religion, gender, age and other specified reasons. But sex offenders "are not a protected class," said Randy Jeffers, an Amarillo real estate broker who is president of the Texas Association of Realtors.

"Obviously, it is a property rights issue, and the developer certainly has a right to place that restriction on their property," Jeffers said. "It's a position that the Texas Association of Realtors certainly wouldn't oppose.

"It begs a whole lot of questions as to what will be the enforcement mechanism ... and I'm sure they've thought through all those things. I guess I'd have to see the whole scope (of the restrictions) before I can really comment on how it would work within the industry."

Under the new restrictions:

  • Sex offenders cannot buy homes in future phases of The Woodlands.

  • A homeowner in those phases cannot subsequently sell his home in any case in which the prospective buyer or any prospective occupant is a sex offender;

  • A homeowner found in violation of the restrictions must sell his home and move.

    Canada said a Woodlands homeowners association, yet to be established, will conduct periodic checks of the Texas Department of Public Safety online database of registered sex offenders. The group will be empowered to take legal action against violators.

    Greg Lines, legal chair for the High Plains Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, did not know, late Wednesday, if the organization has an official position concerning deed restrictions aimed at sex offenders.

    He said his concern would be that such restrictions discriminate against people lumped into a wide category of varying offenses. One example, he said, would be a recent court case in which a man in Alaska was required to register as a sex offender for streaking, an offense committed decades earlier.

    Reaction to Milwaukee Ridge's ban on sex offenders has been positive, said John Sellers, president of I & S Investments, developer of the Lubbock neighborhood. About 150 lots have been sold and 120 homes have been constructed.

    "Before closing, we run a background check on the people that will be living in the house," Sellers said. "If we find out that whoever's going to be living there has a prior sex offense conviction, they're not allowed to live in the house. If everything checks out, they're welcome to move in."

    The Milwaukee Ridge homeowner's association runs checks every 90 days, and those who are found in violation of the policy have 60 days to move out, Sellers said.

    The association can assess a lien of $1,000 a day on the property for the duration of the violation, he said.

    The company promises to buy a home back for the lesser of either 85 percent of its value or the amount of mortgage owed, Sellers said.

    I & S Investments has placed the same restrictions on deeds for a new subdivision it is developing in Lenexa, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City.

    Canada said The Woodlands restriction does not include a buy-back provision and the Chapman partnership does not stipulate a buyer's submission to background checks for all future home occupants because regular checks of the DPS online sex offender registry will be sufficient.

  • Monday, November 05, 2007

    Championship Fathering

    Championship Fathering - Irving TX
    Irving Bible Church

    2435 Kinwest
    Irving, TX 75063

    Friday, November 9
    Saturday, November 10, 2007

    Friday - November 9, 2007

    7:00 PM - 9:30 PM - Discover the POWER OF THE PARENTING TEAM
    Who should come?
    Dads and father-figures in all varieties of fathering situations AND their wives and/or the mothers of their children

    Saturday - November 10, 2007
    6:30 AM - 7:30 AM ~Optional session ~ DADS IN CHALLENGING CIRCUMSTANCES
    Who should come? - Dads only - single fathers, divorced dads, step-dads

    Who should come? Dads only

    Dad - All Friday and Saturday sessions - $30.00
    Mom - Friday evening session only - $15.00

    To access downloadable promotional resources for the Championship Fathering event, click here.

    For additional information, call 800.593.3237 or email seminar@fathers.com

    Start Date: Friday, November 9, 2007
    End Date: Saturday, November 10, 2007

    If you'd like to attend this event you can purchase tickets online. www.fathers.com/seminar