The Muscle and Meaning of a Move

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We may be craving a little constancy these days, while the pandemic swirls around us, while employment is swept out from under people who’ve returned from incarceration, while we worry about their survival and build new business models. But in the midst of it all, Project Return had to move. Urban development, underway before COVID-19, means the corner we’d made our own at 4th and Lafayette will soon be scraped and rebuilt. And it means, for Project Return, an upgrade of sorts – albeit temporary – to bright new rental space, two blocks east.

We were organized and planful about this big move and had chosen the right moving company for the job. It was going to be a neat, professional, cut-and-dried office relo……until it dawned on us, as we grappled with the agony of so many of our participants not having work, that an opportunity was there for the taking. A tremendous amount of work to be done was right at hand, out of which we could fashion real jobs for our people.

We abruptly cancelled the moving company, and mustered a group of temporary employees – all Project Return participants whose commitment to their own survival and desire for honest work made them the perfect candidates for the job. Admittedly, not as neat, professional, or surgical a process as the moving company would have made it. But the muscle, and the meaning, have been transcendent.

For a few weeks, we had the pleasure of employing our participants to work in and amongst our reentry service world, as they packed us up, moved us, and then unpacked us and settled us in. The strength of a people who are powering themselves forward, work hour by work hour, was really all we needed for our relocation. Beyond that, though, their effort ended up sort of anointing the new office space with the significance of work and the spirit of what it takes to succeed after incarceration. And for Project Return, we surprisingly found some of that constancy we crave – the steadfast importance of meaningful employment – in the midst of a move, and in spite of a pandemic.

On payday, on top of their regular wage, our movers earned hazard pay in recognition of their labor with us on the frontline of COVID-19. And the frontline is where you’ll continue to find Project Return, now headquartered at 813 2nd Avenue South, across from the Howard School on the fringe of downtown. Still right up the hill from the Greyhound Station on Lafayette, where so many men and women land each day in Nashville, after being released from prison.

I hope you’ll consider a donation to Project Return. Many thanks to everyone who’s been supporting our work. Rest assured that all throughout this move, the work of Project Return has continued, including delivering delicious meals to hundreds of people each day, and providing the emergency assistance that helps them keep their housing, and so much more. This is work that needs doing. For people who need work.

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