Giving second chances - Beloit business offers work to former criminals

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Amy Beck, a team leader at Father & Sons Cleaning Service stands with her boss Ron Whitley, president and co-owner of Father & Sons Cleaning Service. Beck started working at the company through Community Action Inc.'s Transitional Jobs Program.

Someone working on his or her next-to-last chance may surprise you. That’s what Ron Whitley, president and co-owner of Father & Sons Cleaning said about giving those with a criminal conviction on their record the opportunity to work.

His star employee, 37-year-old Amy Beck, knows how hard it can be to get a second chance. Although Beck said she came from a good family, she got into trouble in her 20s when her boyfriend and his friends sold drugs out of their home. She received an eight-month jail sentence for felony drug charges.

“When I was younger I took life for granted and didn’t realize the consequences,” she said.

Beck, now the mother of a 2-year-old, said she learned her lesson while in jail, meeting many other women in similar situations who had to leave their children because of their involvement with someone selling or using drugs.

After Beck served her time, she moved to Chicago and worked various retail and dog grooming jobs. But when her mother and brother passed away, she decided to move back to Beloit three years ago to help out her family.

However, she never realized how difficult it would be to find work in Beloit given her record. She spent two years filling out at least 30 applications a week for jobs anywhere, between Rockton to Madison or Milwaukee. She had a few three-week assignments with a temporary agency, but was never hired on permanently.

She applied at big box retail stores, area hotels, gas stations and more. She lived with her father and ran a dog grooming business out of the home to try to make ends meet.

Today Beck said she realizes she made a mistake and shamed herself and her family. But she added that she has also grown up and moved on, and feels potential employers are slow to forgive.

In a last ditch attempt to find a job Beck joined Community Action Inc.’s Transitional Jobs Program. The program’s goals are to provide residents with subsidized transitional jobs that meet market demands and yield immediate income, transition participants into unsubsidized employment that becomes a source of stable income to support their families, and improve participants’ labor market skills as well as increase their work experience, according to www.community-action.org.

Whitley hired four people from the program. Beck told Whitley she wanted to become a bereavement counselor and was already working on her associate’s degree in human resources through Blackhawk Technical College.

“Amy stood out because she had a career plan. She was very smart and showed a lot of initiative,” Whitley said.

Beck started working for Father & Sons on Jan. 28. She was assigned to a four-person crew responsible for cleaning a medical facility. Almost immediately she rose to the position of Team Leader.

“She had leadership skills. She got the crew going and the rest of her team respected that,” he said.

Beck said Whitley is understanding of the employees with children and even acts as a mentor, helping her with homework assignments.

The hours, in the evenings for 26 hours a week, allow her to attend class to continue her education. Her co-workers often share rides and help support each other.

Beck and Whitley encourage other companies to consider hiring an applicant who may have a minor conviction. Whitley, who resurrected the business in Beloit last fall, said he discovered people with records often become chronically unemployed unless given a second chance.

Beck said not finding work after a conviction creates a vicious cycle for the offenders and the community at large. Often those with records can’t get housing assistance and won’t be hired for a job. Without housing or job opportunities many resort to selling drugs in order to feed their families. Getting a second chance at employment may be the only way the cycle is broken for many in poverty.

Whitley said he knows it’s a risk hiring someone with a conviction, but said he’s been pleasantly surprised more often than not. He interviewed one candidate, for example, with a technical diploma with experience in carpet and floor care. However, his experience in cleaning floors was in a prison while serving a drug charge. Although he hasn’t hired the man yet, he’s trying to help him find a job.

“I want people to have ability to leverage their possibilities and become economically independent,” he said.

Whitley said most of the unemployed people with convictions usually had a minor charge in connection with drugs. Ironically, while working in the corporate world, Whitley said he observed that white collar workers had their own drug experiences but either weren’t caught, or had the resources to keep it off their record.

Last fall Robert Whitley Jr., Ron Whitley and Ricky Whitley resurrected the commercial cleaning business their parents, Helen and the late Robert Whitley Sr., started back in 1968. Over many years the company has provided commercial cleaning for businesses, educational facilities, daycares, industrial facilities and churches, in addition to offering post construction clean-up.

For more information visit www.fatherandsonscleaning.com or call Ron at 608-362-1125 or email him at ronwhitley1@gmail.com.

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