Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the day “December 9, 2010”

Second Chances: Delancey Street Foundation

I recently participated in a webinar in which our parent organization has decided to institute background checks for all potential employees. They took us through the process and finally told us about the potential skeletons in people’s closets that might be revealed.

This had me wondering for a few days after the call. When someone breaks the law in our society then they are punished. The question is whether they should be punished twice? After a person serves his/her time, pays his/her fine, why should they have to contend with potential employers judging them a second, third and many times after?

One of the biggest challenges that these people face is finding employment. Without it, they are often pushed back to the fringes where they may become exposed to the criminal world once again. The Delancey Street Foundation provides one such solution.

The Delancey Street Foundation provides employment at a great cafe, restaurant, and moving company.  Enter with a history, leave with a future is their motto. They have since added other businesses including corporate car services, paratransit, digital printing and handicraft stores.

Mimi Silbert, President & CEO:

“We said we were going to take ex-convicts and ex-addicts and teach them to be teachers, general contractors, and truck drivers. They said it couldn’t be done. We said we were going to take 250 people who had never worked and had no skills and teach them to build a 400,000 square foot complex as our new home on the waterfront. They said it couldn’t be done. We said we were going to partner with colleges and get people who started out functionally illiterate to achieve bachelor of arts degrees. They said it couldn’t be done. We said we were going to run successful restaurants, moving companies, furniture making, and cafés and bookstores without any professional help. They said it couldn’t be done. We said we were going to do all this with no staff, no government funding, and no professionals. They laughed and said it couldn’t be done.”

There is a saying (I don’t recall its source): People who say something can’t be done, should stay out of the way of those who are doing it. Delancey Street is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary. They are a credit to our society and our City.

“Delancey Street is an incredible mixture of pure idealism and hard practicality. It is the best and the most successful organization I have studied in the world” —Dr. Karl Menninger

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com



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