Blue Jacket celebrated its move to a new location at 2826 S. Calhoun St. with a ribbon cutting and open house Thursday afternoon.
Blue Jacket provides adult ex-offenders with the tools and opportunities to become productive members of society. Conceived in 2003 and launched in 2005, it focuses on job readiness, training and job placement.
Its new location formerly housed the Burmese Advocacy Center and the Catherine Kasper Place, as well as several other nonprofits, until December 2011. Anthony Wayne Services Foundation currently leases the building.
Jennifer Crickmore, an urban garden developer and alumni mentor for Blue Jacket, has been using the garden space CKP left behind. The garden is flourishing with the help of Blue Jacket clients. The organization uses it to provide fresh vegetables for the community and also as a class for clients. On May 4, a class planted everything that is currently in the gardens. Some of the former students come back and help with garden chores such as weeding and watering.
Blue Jacket has a farmers market Tuesday and Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m., providing there are veggies to sell. Crickmore said the neighbors in the community love to stop by and talk about what they like to eat and grow. Blue Jacket's gardeners grow several varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers, squash, gourds, pumpkins, cabbage, onions, several pepper varieties including hot and sweet, and cutting flowers for bouquets. So far there has been only one picking of green beans.
Crickmore said students have put in some improvements, repaved the parking lot and put in garden stepping stones.
“We water every two days, and everything has just taken off like wildfire,” Crickmore said.
No wonder – they used alpaca feces, which the class put in by hand, to fertilize the beds. Crickmore was quick to add that it was two-year-old dried Alpaca feces.
With the new building, the agency now has a lot more space.
“We have been working on the building nonstop since March,” Crickmore said.
Blue Jacket serves 358 clients; most are straight out of the correction system with felony backgrounds. The agency does have a few walk-ins, but they too must have a felony background. Each new client goes through a rigorous screening to make sure he or she is ready for the program.
“We have everybody, from every walk of life you could think of; from people who have absolutely no education or social skills to people who have their masters degrees and PhDs. By looking at them you would never know they had a criminal background unless they told you,” Crickmore said.
A large number of people who come through the program end up employed.
“Everybody has a job in prison. We take those skills, we shine them up, show them how to dress professionally, and we talk to them about the importance of word choice,” Crickmore said.
The agency teaches clients how to write a cover letter, then sends them out with a resume and makes sure they follow up interviews with an immediate thank-you card
“You would be surprised how many people don't send out a thank-you card after an interview,” Crickmore said.
Clients learn about networking, how to dress on the job and how to be polite. As a result, many of them find employment. Crickmore said the companies who hire Blue Jacket clients know that the agency has done its job and that clients are willing to go the length to get the job done.
“Everybody needs help. We try and do what we can,” Crickmore said.