Michael Daniels had no idea what to expect from Thursday’s Second Chance Job Fair at the former Chase Bank in downtown Shelbyville.
But as men and women kept filing out with job applications and information, as well as job offers, Daniels couldn’t help but feel tremendous satisfaction.
“I am really excited about this,” said Daniels, the city’s Behavioral Health & Justice Equity Director. “We have more than two dozen employers. I know we’ve seen close to 50 people who have come in today looking for work. We just talked to a lady that came in, filled out an application, did the interview and is starting work tomorrow (Friday). We are really excited about that.”
The job fair was the final event in the city’s Second Chance and Reentry Month. The goal was to highlight efforts and activities for residents who are reentering the community from justice involvement and incarceration or are celebrating recovery from drugs, alcohol or behavioral addictions.
“We hear all the time people say they can’t find work and we hear from employers who say they can’t find people,” said Daniels. “One of the things that government can do well is convene things. Being able to host this and bring folks together, and that we are able to do this with an eye toward bringing employers on board, and in this case, knowing that many of the folks who came out today may have a criminal background or may be in recovery. And for our clients to know, they are welcome at this event.”
As part of Second Chance and Reentry Month, the Shelby County Public Library created a special display of books focusing on issues of criminal justice, incarceration and recovery. There also was an art showcase at City Hall depicting shoes decorated by women incarcerated in the Shelby County Jail or already in recovery. Each pair of shoes were created with the mindset of how that person felt while in jail or addicted to drugs while the other shoe was the opposite – how it felt to be out of jail or in recovery.
“I think we’ve been able to raise some awareness and maybe, hopefully, paint a little bit of a different picture of who folks are,” said Daniels. “When the average person says I know what people in jail look like or I know what an addict looks like, I think we’ve been able to put a different face on that this month and that was our whole goal.”
Daniel has been working from his City Hall office just over six months now. The Shelbyville native has been impressed with the support he has received as he delves deeper into the community’s issues.
“I did this work in a large democrat metropolitan county for a decade-and-a-half before I came home,” he explained. “I’ve learned that the problems are the same, the only difference is the scale.
“I’ve been incredibly, pleasantly surprised by the lack of partisan opposition or lack of partisan bickering in general. I think folks recognize that this work is important and transcends politics. I was expecting, quite honestly, much more of a buzzsaw than I have gotten so far. I think what we discovered is lots of folks are very interested in this work but across various departments it’s always someone’s third or fourth job to think about these things. By bringing me in where it’s my full-time job everyday to come in and think about these things, it enables us to coalesce all of that into one office.”
The next issue on Daniels’ agenda is homelessness.
“We will be working toward the summer on some grant applications due in the fall and taking a hard look at what homelessness in town looks like,” he said. “What’s the magnitude of that and what are some of the solutions to that.”