The Better Together series highlights some of our most dynamic partnerships across Unite Us’ first decade. For over 10 years, we have been expanding what’s possible, bringing sectors together to achieve whole-person health for every member in our communities. Hear from those partners here and learn how you can join us to unlock the potential of your community.
More than 600,000 people come home from prison every year. With a job and support, they have a chance to succeed. This is the mission of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a national partner of Unite Us. CEO provides immediate, effective, and comprehensive employment services to individuals who have recently returned home from incarceration.
Unite Us shares CEO’s vision that everyone, regardless of whether they have had involvement with the justice system, should have the preparation and support needed to find a job and stay connected to the labor force. We believe that all individuals deserve the chance to shape a stronger future for themselves, their family, and their communities.
The Unite Us partnership has greatly strengthened how CEO’s program has been able to assist their participants, including by successfully integrating our software with their Salesforce instance. This integration has enabled CEO to work more efficiently and connect program participants across the country to community partners seamlessly. These direct connections to community-based organizations, agencies, and programs have helped CEO better support participants in navigating the barriers they face during their reentry process.
For this series, we asked the CEO team about our work together and their vision of how cross-sector collaboration creates lasting change for justice-involved individuals.
As we reflect on a decade bringing sectors together through technology to ensure people’s needs are met, what do you think has changed the most for your organization since the start of our partnership?
Since the beginning of our partnership, CEO has continually appreciated how technology can help us more comprehensively support people returning home from incarceration. It is critical we provide returning citizens with digital skills training, facilitate housing support, make referrals to mental health professionals, and foster connections to other local supportive services. Our partnership with Unite Us has strengthened our ability to meet these needs at scale—which is no small feat given that CEO operates in 31 local communities.
How does CEO think about or approach collaboration with other sectors? What are the benefits to your participants?
Because CEO focuses on the intersection of economic mobility and criminal legal system reform, our work would not be possible without strong partnerships. First and foremost, we rely heavily on collaboration with community-based partners in all CEO locations, especially organizations led by BIPOC individuals and individuals impacted by the criminal legal system. This ensures our model complements and strengthens the network of support that has long helped people return home successfully to their local communities. We also work with local and national employers who value hiring people with convictions and investing in them as high-impact talent. And finally, we rely on government agencies. This includes probation and parole, who can identify people who might benefit from CEO’s services, as well as state departments of transportation, housing authorities, and other government stakeholders who collaborate with CEO to provide participants with transitional jobs. Partners like Unite Us allow us to focus on our strengths and work more efficiently to support CEO participants and advance our overall mission.
Are there any upcoming programs or initiatives related to drivers of health and community health at CEO that you are excited about?
Food security is absolutely essential to individual and community health. This is why we’re supporting the introduction of bipartisan federal legislation that ensures no one has to choose between job training and putting food on the table. Under current law, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients risk losing their food security because of temporary wages they earn in job training or work-based learning programs. The newly introduced Training and Nutrition Stability Act (TNSA), H.R. 3087, aims to remedy this “catch-22.” The bill would allow them to maintain their nutrition supports—leading to better training opportunities, permanent employment, and food security. CEO led the development of this 2023 legislation, which has the support of over 100 organizations. CEO has been proud to work alongside Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Max Miller (R-OH), Alma Adams (D-NC), and Marcus Molinaro (R-NY) to make this change to the Farm Bill so that thousands of justice-impacted individuals get the support they need during their reentry journey.
Looking another 10 years into the future, what is your biggest hope for cross-sector collaboration to improve community health?
Of the many risks revealed by the COVID crisis, we are hopeful that there is greater attention paid to the impact of financial well-being on community health. We know that returning home from incarceration presents a financial struggle to hundreds of thousands of people across the country. Typically, people are released from incarceration with almost nonexistent support: anywhere from $0 to a few hundred dollars in “gate money.” Most returning citizens are ineligible for many safety-net programs or face disparate barriers to accessing them. During COVID, these challenges were compounded by employer layoffs and strained social safety nets.
CEO worked to meet the increased immediate needs for people returning home by setting up something new—an ambitious cash transfer program that ultimately distributed more than $24 million to over 10,000 people. Recipients received amounts ranging from $1,000 to $2,750 in their first few months post-release, which provided a substantially enhanced safety net to support their reentry. CEO envisions a future where this kind of cash assistance is a permanent feature of people’s reentry, and we are advocating for legislation toward that goal. We feel strongly that giving people the right resources promotes autonomy, economic resilience, and healthier communities.
What thoughts would you share with Unite Us leadership as they look out on the next 10 years?
As technology continues to advance and create economic growth, it’s important that disadvantaged community members are not excluded from these gains. Low-skilled workers often are less likely to prioritize building new skills and learning new technologies as they juggle other priorities with limited support– this is especially important given the rapid evolution of generative AI. It has been essential for CEO’s program to emphasize digital skills that help CEO participants catch up on the rapid technological changes that occurred during their incarceration. Even someone who serves a short sentence will come home to significant shifts in technology. And for those who serve longer sentences, these adjustments to technology can be even more jarring. We believe this is a signal and call to action to revitalize how we connect justice-impacted workers to the jobs of the future. We will also need to listen to directly impacted people about economic barriers they face due to automation, artificial intelligence, and other technological disruptions. We look forward to partnering with Unite Us in this mission over the next decade.
Learn more about the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO).
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About Unite Us
Unite Us is the nation’s leading software company bringing sectors together to improve the health and well-being of communities. We drive the collaboration to identify, deliver, and pay for services that impact whole-person health. Through Unite Us’ national network and software, community-based organizations, government agencies, and healthcare organizations are all connected to better collaborate to meet the needs of the individuals in their communities.