For a young man, a prison sentence may last much longer than the required six months or year term of incarceration. Recidivism is always a risk and is particularly high among individuals who enter the criminal justice system as juveniles. Upon release, many young men have no job skills and no prospects for an entry-level position. Ohio is no exception, with an unemployment rate of 25% for teenagers in general and 41% for black teenagers. Frustrated by the failure of the existing system to care for the youth, decorated law enforcement officer Monnie Bush founded Victory Project.
Victory Project is a faith based, not-for-profit organization that mentors court-involved and disadvantaged young men in Montgomery County. VP offers a fully accredited online high school with tutoring and GED preparatory classes. The facility serves up to twenty young men at a time, and they have dinner together five days a week. Monnie’s goal was to give these young men a chance, and the numbers suggest that he’s doing just that. For young men at Victory Project for six months or longer, the unemployment rate is just 8% and the program shows a 90% reduction in recidivism. The high school graduation rate for the program is over 95%.
When asked what makes his program so successful, Monnie points out that participation is completely voluntary. He offers disadvantaged youth a safe place to hang out and a group of like-minded peers, not to mention the opportunity for employment. He also notes that VP is entirely funded by private donations. Most of the young men in the program have been through the juvenile justice system, which means they have been involved in one or more state- or locally- run programs before. The problem with these programs, says Monnie, is that the kids know the programs receive a per diem allowance for each of them. They feel that people are helping them in order to get paid, not because they’re worth helping. At VP, the message is clear: Monnie and the donors that support VP want to help because you deserve a chance.
In addition to all of the above, VP makes our list because of their micro-business projects. The VP fellows don’t just provide labor – they write project proposals and manage projects and client relations. VP provides these young men with the opportunity to take part in genuine entrepreneurial enterprises; they learn how the businesses work and they reap the rewards of a job a well done. VP currently has micro-businesses involved in landscaping, demolition and recycling (they remove drywall, carpeting, and fixtures and donate any useable material to Habitat for Humanity), and auxiliary services such as moving, painting, and garage cleanup.
To learn more, volunteer, donate, or inquire about services, visit the Victory Project website at http://www.victoryproject.org/.