“Opportunity” is a word heard often at SNAP.
Derek Ferraro, Restart's program manager, works to provide a unique chance for ex-offenders to reconstruct their lives after incarceration.
Derek Ferraro, Restart’s program manager, works to provide a unique chance for ex-offenders to reconstruct their lives after incarceration.
For Derek Ferraro, the term defines the mission of a program called “Restart” that provides a unique chance for ex-offenders to reconstruct their lives after incarceration. Derek serves as the program’s manager for SNAP Financial Access, coordinating services that help residents find their financial footing. On the Restart side, Ferraro is joined by SNAP staff members Terry Villalovoz, Ken Warner and Jay MacPherson as well as Karen Goetz, an AmeriCorps VISTA who helps with outreach. Launched last November, SNAP Restart is one of 19 such programs in the nation funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. Derek said the first year of the project “has taken a lot of team effort and work.” “Our goal is to train and employ ex-offenders,” he said. “When you reduce recidivism, it affects a lot of things — you’re making the community safer, it reduces the tax burden and it gives these people jobs, education and hope.” Restart includes a mentoring component where volunteers from various fields work with clients to provide advice, support and encouragement. SNAP collaborates with the Fulcrum Institute which recruits and trains volunteers. “I think most of us take for granted that someone along the way showed us how to be successful,” Derek said. “A lot of these people didn’t have that opportunity. The mentors are there to help.” Although it’s been in place for less than a year, Restart is already making a difference. Prior to the program, only about 30 percent of ex-offenders on work release were finding employment. That number is now closer to 80 percent. SNAP also contracts with WorkSource on a work training program. This program gives clients help with basic job-seeking skills, such as career assessments, resume writing and interviewing. Derek says he has seen “some clients go from not wanting to participate at the beginning of the class to confident individuals wanting to go out and look for a job.” SNAP is able to provide case management and resources like bus passes, gas vouchers, tools and clothing. Clients come from local half-way houses like Eleanor Chase and Brownstone and are eligible for the program if they are 90 days away from release or within six months of post-release. “We’re providing them with tools,” Derek said. Derek said those who have served time often face a bleak picture when they integrate back into society. “There’s high unemployment, debt, fines, housing issues, drugs and alcohol,” he said. “We want to help them eliminate those layers of failure, remove the barriers and give them a chance. So, the people who want to change now have an opportunity to do so.” A total of 246 clients have enrolled in Restart. Derek said another aspect of the program is making sure clients know about the wrap-around services provided through SNAP like energy assistance, credit counseling, small business development loans and more. “We can help them establish a bank account or put them through a financial education class that they may have never had before,” Derek said. While the road back for Restart clients is far from easy, Derek said the program is doing its part to pave the way for those grateful for a second chance. “We don’t want to leave them stranded,” he said. “We want to give them what they need to be successful. Ultimately, the entire community benefits from this program, not just the clients.” Story & photos by SNAP’s Community Outreach Specialist, Craig Howard. Originally published: 10.17.13