By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
A Birmingham–based nonprofit that assists at-risk youth, as well as currently and formerly incarcerated individuals across Central Alabama, last week received $5.86 million from the federal government to continue with its re-entry and career-pathway programs.
The Dannon Project, founded by Jeh Jeh Pruitt of Fox 6 and his wife Kerri in 1999, was one of 40 organizations in the nation to receive the grant from the U.S. Labor Department.
“We are very excited to get this grant, which will give us an opportunity to help our young people,” said Andre Taylor, a project director with Dannon. “It’s really rewarding when we can bring in somebody whose life has been in disarray, turn them around, and show them that there is a better way and they can be successful.”
U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell said, “This is outstanding news for the Dannon Project, a phenomenal resource in our community, as well as individuals looking to successfully reintegrate into society after having been incarcerated. These funds will allow at-risk individuals to receive the hard and soft skills, and other wrap-around services they need to get a fresh start and become productive citizens. This is a win-win situation for our communities.”
The Dannon Project—named for Jeh Jeh Pruitt’s brother, Dannon, who was killed by a man who had recently been released from prison—serves individuals in Jefferson, Calhoun, and Clark counties. The grant money will be used in a number of areas, including job training; career readiness and placement; employment assistance; financial literacy; substance abuse treatment; and mental-health screening and treatment. And, according to Taylor, up to 500 young men between ages 18 to 24 will be helped.
“We treat them like family,” he said. “They might not have the family support. They might not have the father figure in the home. We try to provide mentors to help.”
The grants are part of a series of new actions taken by President Barack Obama’s administration to reduce recidivism and promote reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals. Among the areas covered: Reentry Demonstration Projects for Young Adults, Training to Work, Pathways to Justice Careers, and Linking to Employment Activities Pre-Release.
The program provides the opportunity for organizations to build a customized project built on evidence-based and informed interventions, serving young adults between the ages of 18 to 24 who have been involved in the juvenile or adult justice system and reside in high-poverty, high-crime communities.
“America works best when we field a full team, but far too many people who have been involved with the criminal justice system are being left on the sidelines,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez as a part of the announcement. “These grants are an important step in fulfilling our promise as a land of second chances by moving beyond locking people up and instead working together to unlock their potential.”