'Turnaround Tuesday' aims to help Baltimore's unemployed get back on their feet

When William Glover-Bey got out of prison in 1998, he lapsed back into the addiction he says he acquired as a teenager while selling drugs to help support his family.

He later started attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and seeking a job to help stay clean, but he didn’t have the skills to navigate a market in which employers often frown on a criminal record. Walking out of an NA meeting in January 2015, a friend told him about a job placement program called Turnaround Tuesday.

The nonprofit helps people with criminal records, long stints of unemployment or other challenges land jobs with major Baltimore employers such as Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical System. So far it has helped more than 360 people secure employment, and 81 percent of them remained employed a year later.

Melvin Wilson, the co-director of Turnaround Tuesday, said the program’s success hinges on its partnerships with employers. Applications from Turnaround Tuesday participants bypass the typical online screening process.

“Society has swept a lot of them under the rug,” Wilson said. “Some of them fill out 17-18 applications a day and don’t get a phone call. At least through this process, they’re going to get the phone call, they’re going to get the interview and their chance of getting the job is a lot higher than it was.”

The organization’s leaders hope to expand the program this fall with a door-knocking effort to attract more people to the weekly Tuesday meetings that combine holistic interventions with hands-on coaching.

Turnaround Tuesday was developed by Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, or BUILD, a group of churches and community organizations. The program is funded through foundations such as the Abell Foundation.

The program offers two free meetings every Tuesday, one in East Baltimore and one in West Baltimore.

At a recent meeting at the Macedonia Baptist Church in Upton, the group heard a reading from 2 Corinthians — the verse where Paul talks of a thorn in his flesh — then meditated together as a coach implored them to think of a time they had done a good job and how it made them feel. Later, the attendees broke into groups of three to share their strengths and challenges with each other.

Attendees role play job interviews or difficult workplace situations. At the end of the two-hour sessions, they do a little physical activity because the organizers believe strong bodies are important for getting participants in the right mindset to find a job.

Tia Gross, a case manager for Turnaround Tuesday, said she sits down with new participants to get information on their living situation, criminal history, medical and mental health issues, employment history and childcare arrangements. She then helps them work through any issues that might be preventing them from getting a job. Most participants take eight to 12 weeks to find a job after joining the program.

Wilson said the program follows the participants after they land a job to help keep them on track, as some have serious challenges like homelessness.

Johns Hopkins Health System has hired at least 40 people through the program, said Michele Sedney, the system’s senior director of central recruitment. She said she feels comfortable picking up the phone and calling Wilson and asking about a job applicant if hiring managers are on the fence about the person.

“They truly know the person,” Sedney said. “They’re developing leaders also. That does show in the talent we’re hiring.”

The program takes some of the uncertainty out of the hiring process, said Brentina Horshaw, human resources director for Broadway Services, a Hopkins affiliate that provides housekeeping, parking and other services to companies.

“The fact that Turnaround Tuesday has already vetted the employees [is] a tremendous help,” Horshaw said.

Jason Perkins-Cohen, director of the Mayor's Office of Employment Development, said Turnaround Tuesday’s busy meetings show that word is spreading in the community that the program works. He said the program has a “terrific model” of connecting with faith-based organizations to get to difficult to reach populations.

“If you’re going to help someone move from unemployed to employed, in some cases there are challenges that the individual is facing that they may not want to disclose unless there is trust there,” he said. “To me that’s the strongest part of Turnaround Tuesday, that element of trust.”

The program isn’t just for ex-cons and others with troubled pasts.

Albert Montgomery, 50, was laid off from his job at Locke Insulators in early September after the closure of its Port Covington plant. He had spent 14 years working his way up and most recently operated a computerized machine that cut porcelain post insulators used by electric utilities to control the current flowing through wires.

Though Montgomery has a long work history and is proud of his work ethic, he said he wanted to be proactive about finding a new job quickly, so he went to his first Turnaround Tuesday meeting just days after being laid off.

The Baltimore resident said the meetings reminded him about how to carry himself in the workplace, such as saying the more formal “do you understand what I’m saying to you?” instead of, “you know what I mean?” He also got advice on how to refine his resume.

“This program showed me that my language to people needed to change because I’m in a work environment and I need to talk like I’m a worker,” Montgomery said.

Antonio Thornton of Baltimore was laid off in 2015 from his job mixing and bottling liquors at the former Seagram’s plant in Relay. He said he’s been looking ever since.

“I’m 49 and I would love to get set with some place that has good longevity, good wages, good benefit package, so I can rest assured and put some money away from retirement,” he said.

Thornton started going to Turnaround Tuesdays in September and said he’s gotten “good vibes” from the staff. He hopes he will get a job soon.

“They said if you just stick with the program, come every week, get involved, they almost guarantee you a job somewhere,” Thornton said. “That’s real good stuff to my ears. It makes me feel that whatever time I’m putting in, on the back end someone is going to follow through for me and [my resume] is not just going to be sitting on the stack waiting to get read.”

Glover-Bey wasn’t optimistic when he started attending Turnaround Tuesday, but his attitude soon changed and after a few months he landed a job as a floor-care technician with Johns Hopkins Hospital.

He took an overnight shift so he could attend Turnaround Tuesday meetings during the day and mentor others.

At Hopkins, the Pikesville resident has become such a good employee, he won his department’s employee of the year award.

“It really allowed me to understand what leadership is all about,” said Glover-Bey, 60. “I come every week because I don’t want nobody to miss this.”

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