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All Joslynn Hinnant says she wants is a chance.
A chance to prove herself. A chance to provide for her two children. A chance to live a normal life, have a job and not have to worry as much about how she will pay her bills.
The same chance that everyone else gets.
Hinnant, 21, has a criminal record, however, so getting that chance is not as easy for her. A lot of doors close in her face when she tells an employer or recruiter her story or fills out a job application.
The same is true for Immanuel Lofton, a 23-year-old who also has a record and is also seeking a chance to earn his way up to full-time employment.
“I just wanted a job, period,” says the father of a 4-year-old boy. “I just want to help him out.”
For Hinnant and Lofton, that chance — most would call it a second chance — has come thanks to a partnership between the Wilson Housing Authority and the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Wilson, better known as the Wilson OIC.
The Wilson OIC has received a three-year, $700,000 grant to help young adults ages 18-24 who also have a criminal record get back into the workforce. The grant was awarded through a program known as SOAR and pays to help provide on-the-job training through employers who are willing to work with the people in the program.
“We want them to learn a skill or trade and get the chance to get a job,” said Jesse Raudales, the director of operations for the Wilson OIC.
Which is why Hinnant, Lofton and three other young adults in the program, now find themselves working side-by-side with Wilson Housing Authority maintenance crews to help repair recently vacated public housing units to make them ready for the next tenant.
“The OIC pays them, and we match them up with a mentor and give them training,” said Troy Davis, the Wilson Housing Authority’s director of development. “They are getting basic work experience such as dry wall repair, stripping and waxing floors, adjusting doors and repairing windows.”
All of the people who the housing authority has accepted into the program have had to go through an employee check, drug screening and background check, and it has a strict miss work and you are out of the program policy.
To graduate from the program, the young adults have to complete 400 hours — 10 weeks — of work. At the end of the program there is a chance of getting on full-time with the employer, and Davis said that is true for the Housing Authority’s maintenance staff as well.
“We are always looking to find ways to help us turn our vacant units more quickly and get them back into the hands of a new family who needs the affordable housing,” Davis said.
Hinnant said she is appreciative of the chance and likes what she is doing for the housing authority.
“I like manly work,” she said. “My grandfather had his own construction business, so I am comfortable redoing floors and painting.”
Lofton said he doesn’t have any formal maintenance or construction training but said he heard about the opportunity at the housing authority from the OIC.
“The OIC helped me get my ID and now they have helped me get a job,” he said.
Both Davis and Tim Little, the supervisors for the housing authority work crews, said that none of the people in the program have much experience, but they knew that going in.
“Kelly (Housing Authority President and CEO Kelly Vick) said let’s contact OIC and see if we can partner with them to get some help with our basic maintenance and repairs,” said Davis. “Anything we can do to help these men and women get better trained and help keep our affordable housing units filled is a win for us.”
For Hinnant, she says the feeling is more basic.
“I feel like God has opened a door for me.”