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Chance at a new beginning
November 09, 2012, 05:00 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal Volunteer Diana Lee helps Phillip Brown dress for success yesterday at a job fair for the formerly incarcerated in Redwood City. About 300 attended the event that featured more than 25 employers.

Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson has served the county for 14 years now and, as she is set to leave her post later this year due to term limits, she hosted her last big event while still in office yesterday — a first-of-its-kind job fair in Redwood City for the formerly incarcerated.

Jacobs Gibson and her office, with support from other county agencies, linked about 300 people yesterday with more than 25 local employers ready to give those once jailed a chance for a new beginning.

Although some of the lines were long at employer tables, Daly City resident Kevin Kwan said he was still able to get in a few good interviews.

Kwan and a host of other men were also fitted with suits and ties, for free, by a group of volunteers eager to help job seekers look their very best.

Some were skeptical and had to be coaxed to put on a tie as they had never worn one before.

Volunteers Diana Lee, Nancy Kawakatsu and a few others fitted the men with suits, blazers and slacks and helped pick matching ties and even tied them for the men.

After being fitted with a suit, Redwood City resident Laurence Solis ventured out into the job fair at the former First American Title Insurance Co. building on Marshall Street, where he was also met with resource tables to help with interview skills.

It was not just men at the event either, there were plenty of women there too seeking jobs at companies such as Recology, Summit Steel Works, Target, Macy’s, IKEA and the GreenPro Network, among others.

Jacobs Gibson and her office worked with employers extensively before yesterday’s event to point out the benefits of hiring someone who was formerly in jail or prison.

"We tried to alleviate the employers’ concerns, speak about the risks and let them know there are tremendous benefits to hiring the formerly incarcerated,” Jacobs Gibson told the Daily Journal.

Many at the event had previously received services through Service Connect, a San Mateo County Human Services Agency program established after state realignment transferred state parolees back into the care of the county’s probation system.

The HSA program provides the formerly incarcerated with services to help them re-enter the community, such as housing and support for mental health and health needs.

The aim of Service Connect is to provide the former inmates with the tools they need to survive in society and keep them from ending up back in jail or prison.

The transition from state care to county care has gone well, said Deborah Lee Torres, the director of Collaborative Community Outcomes with the HSA.

"We’ve been able to provide critical services up front, get them stabilized around housing and next is employment,” Torres said.

Yesterday’s event was for non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious convictions only and attendees were required to pre-register.

"It is about helping them be productive and self sufficient but in the end what they really need is a job,” Jacobs Gibson said.

After Belmont resident Phillip Brown was fitted with a new tie, he was wished "good luck” by the volunteers who helped him look his best.

"I feel good, great, happy and blessed,” Brown said as he entered the main floor of the job fair.

The benefits of assisting the formerly incarcerated find work helps to reduce crime and the reliance on social services and creates wage earners who help grow the local economy. The companies employing the former inmates can receive tax credits up to $9,000 and up to $7,500 for job training reimbursements through the Workforce Investment Board.

"The vision was not just to put on a job fair but a successful job fair,” Jacobs Gibson said.

The event could be repeated depending on yesterday’s success.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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