Engaging the Community: How Social Enterprises are Providing Jobs for Offenders


Engaging the Community: How Social Enterprises are Providing Jobs for Offenders

Narrator: At the corner of Military and Monkstown roads in the heart of St. John’s Newfoundland, is a small upscale café that serves an exquisite selection of artisan sandwiches, homemade soups and a tantalizing array of gourmet cakes and pastries.

Melissa Cox: It’s really high end stuff, it’s like triple chocolate ganache. We have to decorate it with a little flower on to it. So it really presentation really good, right, sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce on the top. It’s really, really, really good eating, tastes really good, it’s delicious!

Narrator: It’s called the Hungry Heart café and it stands on the exact spot that W.J Murphy’s grocery store once stood, a local landmark for nearly 100 years.  The intersection is known as Rawlins Cross, gateway to historic Georgetown and home to the city’s first traffic light.

Opening Title Sequence: Engaging the Community: How Social Enterprises are Providing Jobs for Offenders

Gale: My name is Gale. I live actually just across the street, across the square and I’ve been coming here since they opened and actually before. Because this is a heritage area and there was a lot of concern when Stella Burry opened here because this had been a grocery store for years and years. Anyway, so we were -- we were nervous.

Melissa Cox, former trainee: I had an argument with an acquaintance that I know and she ended up having two broken ribs and a punctured lung, which left me with aggravated assault and a breach.

Denise Hillier, Stella’s Circle:  The Hungry Heart Cafe is an example of one of the social enterprise opportunities that’s available to individuals who would be released back to their community in St John’s on parole.

It’s a program that provides up to six months of training, hands on. The individual start with classroom time but then as well do on the job training through our Hungry Heart Cafe. A number of individuals coming through there have gone on to either work at our cafe or be hired in the community. And the goal is actually to have people work beyond our organization and have them hired by employers in the St. John’s area or whatever communities they might be going back to.

Melissa Cox: Oh my Gosh. It makes you feel so good. Because it’s something that you’re good at, right? Before I was incarcerated and I ended up coming here, like I’m a mom which is a big job, but I didn’t really have much skills as in for trades work as to get out and work in the community, right? So it makes you feel really good about yourself, that you’re actually a part of society, that you can please somebody, Someone can come in and buy a piece of cake and something like that and you can watch them and they know that they actually love what you just made. Like, they love it, right?

Narrator: Studies have shown that one of the biggest success factors in terms of reintegrating offenders back into their communities is meaningful and well paying fulltime employment. Having a fulltime job not only helps prevent offenders from returning to a life of crime, but also serves to make them feel they are part of society, that they belong as full contributing members of their communities.

Melissa Cox: When I was in prison I didn’t think that I could actually get the help that I feel like the person I am right now. I didn’t think I was ever going to be that person. This cafe has done that, Emmanuel house has done that, the people surrounding me has done that, Stella Burry has done that for me. They’ve given me the confidence. They’ve given me the help, they’ve given me everything that I need to be this beautiful person and to make them beautiful things, to be a better mom and a productive person in society.

Narrator: One of the ways that the Correctional Service of Canada assists offenders in gaining meaningful, fulltime employment in the community is by creating vibrant partnerships with organizations such as Stella’s Circle.

Denise Hillier:  Stella’s Circle has maintained a significant partnership with some of our federal partners over the years, in particularly, Correctional Services Canada, we are I guess over 20 years since forming our relationship where we provided beds in our residential treatment program to women offenders because there is no halfway house here in St. John’s and we continue with that relationship with CSC to this day.

Narrator: Recognizing that employment is a key factor in helping homeless ex-offenders find stable housing and re-integrate into society, the Government of Canada has formed an internal partnership between its Correctional Service and its department of Employment and Social Development, formerly known as HRSDC. The latter has provided over $500,000 to five not-for profit organizations to establish Social Enterprises and provide valuable training and work experience to these clients. 

Jennifer Oades, Correctional Service of Canada: I am really excited that we have developed this partnership. It has provided, we, through this partnership we have been able to leverage support for eight different social enterprise initiatives with a number of our NGOs right across Canada. HRSDC has been incredibly supportive and while we our contributing to our mandate of, of public safety, we are also helping them contribute to their mandate of reducing and preventing homelessness.

Tim Foran, Employment and Social Development Canada
We’ve been really pleased to work with Correctional Services Canada on these innovative projects around social enterprise. We see it as a, as a real innovation and an opportunity to support those that are vulnerable in society.

Narrator: The Hungry Heart Café is a unique example of what those partnerships actually look like. Established in 2007 and run by Stella’s Circle, it is a mixture of a business venture and a social program. Put the two together and you have a social enterprise.

Rob McLennan, Stella’s Circle: So social enterprise has a double bottom line, there’s no doubt. There’s the business metrics and you know, all your food costs and your sales and these sorts of things.  And there’s also, in our example of a social enterprise, a social mission which is assisting people with developing skills for working in the food services industry.

Tim Foran: Social enterprise initiatives such as that organized by Stella Burry are initiatives that will allow vulnerable Canadians to get some work experience, to gain some valuable skill development, work experience that will give them some tools in order to help stabilize their lives.

Rob McLennan: The value of the training experience to the trainee is very much that it’s not patronizing at all, it’s linked to a product that is, you know, has to be as good as anything they’ll find at any another restaurant that it has to be served, fresh, hot, on time, with value.

Narrator: In addition to The Hungry Heart Café, Stella’s Circle provides training opportunities to offenders in two other initiatives. Their Trades Helper program allows participants to gain practical experience in virtually all aspects of construction trades.

And their CleanStart program provides on-the-job training in office cleaning maintenance.   

Stella’s Circle:
The Hungry Heart Café
Trades Helper Program
CleanStart Program

Rob McLennan: One the great things about a social enterprise model of working with people through workplace-based experience is that it provides an opportunity to transition and learn marketable job skills that can be used in other employment settings and to start to develop confidence and believing in themselves and maybe disrupting some of those patterns so that people are connecting with other people who are motivated by similar goals and around making a difference in their own life, for sure.

Narrator: The social enterprise model isn’t unique to St. John’s and the Hungry Heart Café. In Toronto, a similar initiative is helping women offenders gain valuable skills in the gourmet coffee roasting business.
Lisa-Marie Olsen: I spent 16 years altogether in a federal institution. It wasn’t easy for me to find work at all. It took me over a year to find work. It was very discouraging and I was starting to lose hope and I also believe it’s because I had a criminal record.

Christine Lam, Parole Officer, Correctional Service of Canada: Prior to Lisa starting at Reunion Island, we had some concerns because she was getting very upset about the fact that she couldn’t find work. She was getting discouraged.

Lisa-Marie Olsen: I first heard about the opportunity at Reunion Island through my Parole Officer who referred me to the Klink program. At first, you know, I kind of hummed and hawed about it but I said, you know, I’ll give it a shot and I’ll try.

Narrator: Created and run by the St. Leonard’s Society of Toronto, Klink is a social enterprise that focuses on two things: finding sustainable jobs for offenders, and selling coffee. All the profits from the latter go into supporting its main goal of breaking down the barriers that often prevent offenders from finding employment in the community.
Sonya Spencer, St. Leonard’s Society of Canada: Offenders coming home are a part of our communities, whether the community wants them, whether the client or offender feels that they are a part of the community, in fact they are. This is not just a federal government issue. It’s not a voluntary sector issue alone. It truly is a community issue that needs to be solved collaboratively.

Jennifer Oades, Correctional Service of Canada: I’m convinced that for long term public safety we really need to work together, all sectors, government, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and this is a wonderful initiative that shows great partnerships developing right across this country.

Tim Foran, Employment and Social Development Canada: The role of the federal government is to partner not just with non-governmental organizations, service partners, such as St. Leonard’s Society in Toronto, but also with other, with the private sector, with enterprises.

Narrator: The vehicle through which the St. Leonard’s Society of Toronto encourages that level of community collaboration is of course Klink, a corporate brand that was the brainchild of a high-powered Toronto marketing firm.
Sonya Spencer: Genesis XD is a marketing and branding firm in Queen’s Quay in Toronto. We did have some ability to pay them for some of their work but they were so invested in our cause and so excited about what we were trying to achieve through this program that they got on board and they have done an enormous amount of work for us.

Harry Cornelius, Genesis XD: A klink is, is slang for prison cell, right, but also a klink is the sound that when you’re toasting, it makes a lovely sound. So when we did our kind of focus group testing it, it really had both of those things so it had a kind of a celebratory element as well as it appealed to, it was part of the corrections world. We could have had any kind of brand but we wanted to have a brand that really belonged to our world and not to any other world.

Narrator: With Klink in place, St. Leonard’s was now ready to execute its plan of engaging the community, and they did so in an entirely different way, a way that had never been done before. At the vanguard of that effort was Graham Lewis, a former corporate executive whose task had now became to sell the idea of hiring offenders to business owners at the highest levels.

Graham Lewis, St. Leonard’s Society of Toronto: I’m about making change from the top. I’m about de-stigmatizing, I’m about engaging, the owners of the company is to say, hey is this right that you’re ostracizing a particular segment of society when they’re extremely highly valuable, highly motivated employees. Why don’t you take a look at this program?

Adam Pesce: Well we definitely needed someone to sort of talk us through why we shouldn’t be concerned. Obviously there’s these stigmas that exist. I think we have these ideas in our head of what an offender is and looks like and it’s really not the reality.

Lisa-Marie Olsen: My placement was here at Reunion Island. I was here for three weeks and I was given the opportunity to work in a factory environment and to learn new skills.

Adam Pesce: Lisa was immediately doing great as an employee during the program and we talked about it here and decided that there was no one, we couldn’t imagine finding someone better if we started a search fresh.

Lisa-Marie Olsen: When they told me that they were going to hire me fulltime, I cried. I was so happy and just like I said words can’t express how I felt that day. I was like on cloud nine because again someone actually gave me a chance to prove myself and also just you know a second chance to be able to work and earn a living and move on in my life because that’s very important is to move on. My past is my past, that doesn’t define who I am today.

Adam Pesce: It was a really powerful moment or all of us here. We didn’t, we didn’t really expect for that sort of emotional exchange to happen but I think we all got a little bit emotional just seeing how happy we had made Lisa and we were thrilled with all of a sudden we have another great employee and it was just a, it was a really great day. It was like, it was one of those, you know heart warming sort of tingles up the spine kind of moments. Seeing just, just that the simple act of, of giving someone that chance and giving someone a job could make someone just so happy and relieved and, yeah, it was a powerful moment for us.

And that was, that was the moment that, you know, I knew the program was going to be successful but that was the moment where I was like, ok, this is our, this is the first true success that we’ve had with this program. And, how, how are we going to move this forward from here and do more?

The Government of Canada would like to thank all those who participated in the production of this video, including:

  • Stella’s Circle, St. John’s Newfoundland
  • The St. Leonard’s Society of Toronto
  • Reunion Island Coffee Ltd., Oakville, Ontario
  • Genesis XD, Toronto, Ontario