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DECEMBER 16, 2019
Meet Lance, Keith, Naimah, and Mark
by Greater Newark Conservancy

We believe that a person’s past does not define their future. A unique component of our job training initiatives is providing professional development opportunities and jobs to the formerly incarcerated. After all, the longer formerly incarcerated individuals are employed, the less likely it is they will ever return to prison.

Meet Lance, Keith, Naimah, and Mark — four exceptional people who have completed reentry programs and are now Conservancy employees leading by example for others in similar situations. Without these steady jobs, their futures could have turned out very differently, including the risk of returning to life on the streets. Being employed has not only changed the lives of these individuals, but has had a ripple effect, as they are now able to help family, and even friends.

Lance, reentry job coach, was born in Newark and raised in the projects in East Orange. He became involved with drugs when he was 13 years old because he wanted to be successful, but had no role models. He left the drug life at 20 years old, earned his GED, and found employment, but after a divorce, returned to the streets. After being incarcerated for 5 years, Lance was hired as job coach for the reentry program, and also combined his business experience with knowledge of the streets to start a business as a motivational speaker for ex-offenders and other audiences. At the Conservancy, Lance leads 3 job training sessions each orientation week for new reentry clients, conducts mock job interviews, and contacts employed clients to help with any issues they may have on the job. One of his greatest advantages is that he can relate to and understand what the clients have experienced while incarcerated. He is therefore able to serve as an example to them that it is possible to strive to overcome one’s past and to achieve success. Lance is also involved in a catering company with his fiancée, and one of their signature products, banana pudding, will soon be offered in 32 ShopRite stores. He has tried to maximize the opportunity he has been offered at the Conservancy and feels he wouldn’t be doing the other things in his life without the reentry program because it provided him with valuable connections. Lance says, “I try to duplicate myself in other people and love helping other people win.” He is extremely proud of the personal example he sets and of the legacy he is leaving for his children.

Keith, landscape supervisor, spent years on the streets and time in prison. He was a heroin addict at age 14, left home at 16, did not finish high school, and had an employment history mostly of selling drugs. Thanks to his participation in the Conservancy’s Newark Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative (NPRI), Keith was hired as a full-time landscape assistant. Through his hard work, initiative, and desire to learn, Keith became landscape supervisor, responsible for maintaining the Conservancy’s Prudential Outdoor Learning Center. Through a combination of classes and learning on his own, Keith has gathered the knowledge to establish and maintain our beehives, chicken coop, and hydroponic greenhouse. He is always very enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge about gardening, which adds to his success in supervising corporate volunteers, summer interns, and the landscaping crew during the winter. Keith recently bought a house in suburban New Jersey and enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren.

Naimah, office manager, lived in a home for girls and in the foster care system, and was expelled from the 12th grade. Drug activity led to her incarceration. When she became involved in the Conservancy’s NPRI, she learned how to lay bricks, and operate saws and landscaping equipment. Naimah joined the Conservancy staff as community greening assistant, where she engaged neighborhood residents in cleanups, beautification projects, and community gardening. Earning her high school diploma in 2009, Naimah also learned valuable computer and office skills at the Conservancy. She has been office manager for the Conservancy for the last 5 years and has recently begun performing administrative duties for the financial department. Naimah also works with reentry clients, where she serves as a role model because “[she has] been where they are now.” She says she is “humble and happy,” which is apparent by the way she always greets staff and visitors with a big smile. After years of living with relatives, Naimah has moved into her own apartment and has gotten her learner’s permit. She is very grateful when she thinks about how far she has come from her time in prison and says she never would have been able to achieve all she has without the Conservancy.

Mark, landscape assistant, attended school on and off as a youth, so he didn’t learn how to read until he was 26. After separating from his wife, he ended up in jail and then homeless. He spent some time living in a mission and eventually found an apartment and work in construction. After being employed in a series of jobs, Mark went to Offender Aid and Restoration, where he was directed to the Conservancy’s Clean and Green Program—a job training program providing transitional landscaping jobs to formerly incarcerated residents. Soon after, he began a full-time job with the Conservancy as our landscape assistant. Through his work at our urban farms, Mark found his passion for farming while growing professionally and personally. The farms became a safe place for him and others who were struggling, and he found his calling as their confidant. Mark is responsible for maintaining the Hawthorne Avenue farm and supervises volunteers and ex-offenders who perform community service on weekends. He is especially excited to work with first-time gardeners and thinks it is empowering to play a part in changing the way people eat—he is so happy to see kids eating food they hadn’t tried before. Mark takes pride in the skills he gained with us at the Conservancy, and says, “When you go to bed, you want to know you are making a difference. I’m making a difference. You can’t take that from me.”

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