As Project Return celebrates its 40th birthday this week, we are reminded of our beginnings and how they set us on our current trajectory. Project Return experienced a 43% increase in participation rate last year, and we are on track to exceed our numbers yet again this year. Our recidivism rate, at a mere 18%, is vastly lower than the national or state average of more than 50%. Our job acquisition rate remains over 80% year-to-year. Yet, our stats are just an outward representation of the culture within.
In order to learn more about who we are today, we spoke with Larry Craig, our Program Services Director, who, coincidentally, shares his birthday with Project Return.
So, why has Project Return been so successful?
“Proximity,” Larry says immediately. He doesn’t just mean physical proximity to our population. But, proximity of heart, “meeting them where they are and treating them with the respect they deserve, the respect they may not have felt in a long time. When people come through our doors, they are not ‘inmate’ or ‘ex-offender’ or ‘criminal’ or ‘felon’. They are Bill, Alice, Marcques or Juanita.”
That can’t be the only reason people keep coming back, can it?
“People come in and they see that we aren’t just saying it, we are doing it.” Project Return’s culture of urgency, and putting our participants first, shines through everything we do. If we don’t provide a service, we look around and say, “Let’s figure out how to make it happen.” Many of our services were born out of discovering what people need. For example, a person was struggling on the job as a quality assurance officer, when we realized, it wasn’t a lack of intention or dedication – he couldn’t see! From that day forward, we pay for eye exams for every individual, and get them the prescription glasses they need.
But really, what sets us apart?
“We have a phenomenal staff,” Larry concludes. “We have innovative thinkers on our team that help catapult our program and project that confidence out into the world. All of that is reflected in the awards we have won. Often people don’t get to see the hardworking program service and business development staff behind those awards and the service mindset and culture we have built here. How we are seen on the outside is about what’s going on in the inside.”
We began 2019 off strong. Even though we have tripled our office space over the past four years, we are still busting at the seams. We are on track to assist more people this year than last. And, as we are looking to the future we ask ourselves, “Where will we be in the next 40 years?”
When we think about it, we already know the answer: We will be right here. Regardless of where Project Return’s physical location is, the essence of who we are will be here, close to our participants, serving them, and constantly reminding ourselves of the “fierce urgency of now”and “proximity” that drives everything we do.
Happy Birthday Project Return! (and Larry!)