Recycling program provides job training to former inmates

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By Lawrence H. Geller

Laura Ford, 71, has gone into prisons more times than she can remember over the past 15 years. Not as an offender, but as a volunteer with the prison ministry project of St. Vincent De Paul Roman Catholic Church in Germantown.

Her work listening to and counseling inmates has been very meaningful. “How to help them when they were released was always a question,” Ford said. Another volunteer, Tim Lyons, 65, agreed. “We spend tons of money putting people into prison and not enough to assist them when they come out,” said Lyons, a minister at St. Vincent’s.

These two dedicated prison ministry volunteers joined forces to address this need in their community. “I heard of a group in Indiana working with former inmates to recycle electronics,” Ford said. “I decided to go out and see if it was something we could do here. I was impressed, and they encouraged me to do it in Philadelphia.”

Ford learned there was plentiful work that, by happenstance, was profitable: extracting copper, silver, brass and other metals from the hard drives of old electric equipment. To get the project started, they hosted an electronics collection drive at their church. Members brought in used laptops, desktop computers, monitors and cell phones. The word spread, as connections were made with schools, other churches and universities.

After finding a warehouse they could use to store the donated equipment, grants were obtained from the Vincentians, a religious community; Daughters of Charity; and the Patricia Kind Foundation.

In 2015, People Advancing Reintegration, Inc. (known as PAR Recycle Works) was born. After obtaining a supply of used electronics, they needed workers to extract the valuable metals. Recommendations of former inmates were made by probation officers, the Federal Re-entry Court Program and word-of-mouth from the former inmates themselves.

As far as pay is concerned, “It’s more than the minimum wage,” Ford said. “Clearly, the 28-hour work week is just a start to the next leap forward for the 150 people who have gone through the program.”

But for the workers, the job training is far more valuable than the money earned. “They have expressed gratitude not only for the work experience, but for assistance with resume writing, getting a driver’s license, housing and the next step forward to a job,” Lyons said. Most workers stay in the PAR program for about six months, then go on to full-time employment. “That was our goal,” Lyons said. “Of [the program participants] who remained in contact, most turned their lives around. They are now working and have good family lives. Very, very few have returned to prison.”

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Do you have used electronic equipment that you’d like to donate? If so, you can contact PAR Recycle Works by calling 267-335-5455, emailing info@par-recycleworks.org or through its website home.par-recycleworks.org.

Pickups of donated materials from a residence or business are available for scheduling. The PAR warehouse, located at 2024 W. Hunting Park Ave. in Philadelphia, operates weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. PAR Recycle Works takes precautions to destroy any personal information stored on donated devices.

All data is removed from laptops and other computers with a device called a “degausser” and a hole is drilled through all hard drives.

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Lawrence Geller is an actor, writer, activist and creator of the Anne Frank Theatre Project

Categories: Milestones eNews

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