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By Janis Mork

October 24, 2013 (San Diego)- The Second Chance Program in Southeast San Diego deals with the hard-to-serve population, giving formerly incarcerated, former substance abusers, homeless vets, and at risk youth a ‘second chance’. They offer programs such as Strive, JOLT workforce, and recovery groups.  Their mission is to empower people to change their lives.

Robert Coleman, executive director of Second Chance, was recently interviewed by ECM to share more details about this program.

He first came to work with Second Chance just a few years ago. He is originally from England and he told ECM, “I spent my entire career working with housing young people and getting them back into employment.” He added, “Working at Second Chance has been a real thrill for me.”

Second Chance has been around for 20 years. On October 5, Second Chance had a gala, in which they celebrated those many years they have been in business. “So in all those years, we’re serving people through housing [and] job-readiness training. Since 2003, we have gotten nearly 4000 people back to work.”

People are referred to this program in many ways, for instance, through family and friends, or through the sheriff’s or probation department. “We have a large network of agencies we work with throughout the county,” Coleman noted.

When he was asked if he’d share a story of how they’ve successfully accomplished their mission, Coleman told Angie’s story.

Angie is one of their board members. “[She] was a heroin addict” from age 16-36 and had been in prison. After she was released, she went to a local residential program. After going through Strive and graduating from one of the classes, she got a job, bagging at Vons.  Then, one day, she was given an opportunity to train in the meat department there. She had worked there for only a short time, but she wanted to try. So, she trained to become a master butcher. “Today, fast forward, she is now the highest paid union employee at Vons,” he said, adding, “She thoroughly enjoys” her job.

One program offered at Second Chance is known as Strive for the Future.  The program integrates skill development, academic learning, and job experience with intensive case management and supportive services. Young adults between 14-21 years are recruited for two weeks of job readiness training followed by one-on-one mentoring and paid internships working in their Urban Garden Project and/or learning land reclamation and water conservation working with their partner Back County Land Trust. Academic learning is provided in partnership with the County Office of Education, Juvenile Court and Community Schools. There are also opportunities to work towards their GED, access to mental health services, and ability to participate in other youth development activities throughout the program.

The training is free, and the benefits include gaining valuable life skills, building self-esteem, and increasing their earning potential. These young people had to have been involved in the juvenile justice system within the past 12 months, reside in Southeast San Diego or City Heights, and are interested in gaining hands on work experience and furthering their education.

Their Cognitive Behavior Therapy is designed to meet the needs of the county’s most severe and chronic juvenile offenders. Approximately 10% of the juvenile offender population has either failed out of the county’s other programs or has committed a level of crime that necessitates an extended period of incarceration; this group of youth are part of the Youthful Offender Unit or YOU. Their team works with the young men and women of YOU (at the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility and the Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility).

Topics such as Substance Abuse, Healthy Relationships, Prostitution, Anger Management and Victim Awareness are covered during their maximum 480-day stay. In addition to the group programming, each youth is assigned a counselor who works with their individual case plan. Upon release into the community the same counselor continues to meet with them weekly until they are terminated from probation.

For Strive for adults, “It’s a 4 week program. It’s 160 hours Monday through Friday, 9-5. It’s pretty tough in that we have high expectations”, the same as what employers expect. “That way, there are no surprises”, Coleman added. The first part prepares a person’s attitude and approach to work, such as body language. The other part involves resume building, mock interviews, as well as learning how to use a computer for email and to apply for jobs online.

What happens after an individual goes through the Job Readiness Training? That’s when the real work for the graduates begin – their search for a job. The Monday after graduation, graduates are in the computer lab, researching companies and looking for employment. In addition to their computer lab, graduates received up to two years of formal case management with job development service, counseling, and employment placement assistance.  Sober living housing is also available.

Asked what challenges clients face, Coleman noted that the program participants include veterans, ex-offenders, and low-income income adults with barriers to successful employment, including substance abuse and dependency, domestic violence, low education equivalencies, lack of employment history and mental health needs, and a variety of circumstances associated with deep poverty, poverty often rooted in the communities from which participants come.

What participants benefit most, and who can sign up for the program?  Coleman explained that the Job Readiness Training Program accepts participants regardless of any particular obstacles to employment and prepares all participants alike in the fundamental skills necessary to obtain and retain work. The process includes addressing personal presentation and style, taking an inventory of one’s assets and strengths as well as one’s weaknesses, embracing the idea of collaboration and cooperation, conforming to the expectations and demands of the modern workforce, and learning the process of accessing employment opportunities through information technology.

The community also benefits from getting people off the streets and back to work.

“Second Chance has placed thousands of graduates over the past two decades and includes two years of follow-up case management services for all graduates. Of our graduates, 70 percent will have attained employment within 120 days of graduating the program, and 70 percent of those attaining employment will continue to be employed two years later,” Coleman pointed out.

Finally, in partnership with the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, Second Chance offers up to two years of stable housing, intensive case management, access to mental health and other social services, job readiness training and job placement to ten emancipated foster youth at any given time.

The public can support Second Chance in many ways.

“First, learn about what they do. Come over for a visit during our Job Readiness Training program or attend a graduation. The experience cannot be described,” Coleman stated.”Second, donate professional clothing.”

The organization accepts new and gently used professional clothing for men and women. If a client needs professional clothing for the Job Readiness Training class, or for a job interview, they can provide them with appropriate wear. They encourage their corporate partners to run cash and clothing drives because while the clothing is important, it is the monetary donation that keeps their programs up and running.

And finally, they need financial support. Their clients attend the training program free of charge; Second Chance incurs the cost per client, which is about $1,800 per person for the Job Readiness Training. Without financial support from individuals, foundations and corporations, they would not be able to offer their programs and services. There are also volunteer opportunities.

For more information about Second Chance, visit: You can also contact (619) 234-8888.

To learn more about Strive, contact Marieanne Herrera at or call (619) 839-0966. 

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