Member Spotlight - Project Return

Q: Tell us more about Project Return.

A: Project Return is in its 37th year of service to Nashville and Middle Tennessee, dedicated solely to the success of the men and women who are returning to the community from incarceration. We propel people into employment – by the hundreds each year – while meeting their immediate, critical needs after prison. Our focus is job readiness and workforce development, and our specialty is connecting motivated job seekers with good employment opportunities at Middle Tennessee companies – changing lives, benefiting businesses, and making our community a better place to live and work.

Q: What's your biggest goal for your nonprofit in 2016?

A: Project Return's biggest goal for this year is to reach more people in every sense. We want to reach more people who are returning from incarceration; reach more people in the business community who are in need of a motivated workforce; and reach more people who don't know about the important work we are doing in Nashville, and why it benefits everybody in our city.

Q: Describe a recent challenge and how you addressed it.

A: Our challenge has been solving the riddle of connecting the motivated, well-meaning people who want to go to work with the solid companies of all sizes that have workforce needs. The impediment in the middle of that is the employers’ reluctance to hire applicants with a criminal background. We said to ourselves, “We’d hire them!” And that’s exactly what we set out to do – by creating a social enterprise, in which we ourselves become the employer of record, long enough to give our qualified job seekers the work experience they need for other employers across the community to see them as hardworking, worthy employees. We launched our transitional employment program, PRO Employment, or “PROe,” as it has become affectionately known, to address the challenge and meet the need. At the same time, PROe, now in its third year as a growing entrepreneurial venture and the 2015 NEXT Award winner in the Startup/Social Enterprise and Sustainability category, generates a sustainable and growing source of revenue to support Project Return’s important mission.

Q: How has Chamber membership benefited your company?

A: Our Chamber membership has connected us to so many workforce opportunities for our participants through ribbon-cutting ceremonies, networking meetings and larger events. It has helped Project Return cultivate new partnerships for our social enterprise.

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