SAVANNAH, GA (December 28, 2012): While most of the population is preparing for a new year, some members of the Savannah Impact Program’s Work Ventures are preparing to wash cars.

It’s not a hobby. It’s an opportunity to prove – perhaps even to themselves — that they have what it takes to hold down a job and become a productive member of society.

Friday morning, cold and early, SIP’s Mobile Car Wash team rolled out water hoses and soap buckets and tackled a fleet of police cars at Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department’s West Chatham Precinct. They repeated the process in other locations throughout the day. No shortcuts were taken. Each car had to be vacuumed, washed and deodorized the way a professional car cleaning service would.

“Customer service is everything,” says program coordinator Daniel Stallings. “You have to do a good job for the people you serve.”

It’s a point Stallings and SIP must drive home to the some 100 participants of the Work Ventures program. Their job is to help returning felons prepare for occupations they never had — or wanted — a chance to obtain before.

Many had no role models of breadwinners who rose each morning to prepare for a hard’s day work every day or weren’t interested in noticing role models. Some just made a mistake that will haunt them the rest of their lives.

As a result, felons released on parole or having served their sentences struggle to obtain the jobs they never could get before and now must overcome a conviction as well. Many lack educational backgrounds, marketable skills, experiences, work history and the basic work ethic of committing to eight hours a day, every day, in professional manner. It can produce a downward spiral for offenders.

“SIP’s mission is to steer former offenders from criminal activity to productive work,” said Police Chief Willie Lovett, who helped form the program in 2001. “Most returning felons quickly become recidivists because they know nothing else or have no place to turn. SIP’s record of addressing those issues is impressive. It is one of the most important programs this department – or this area – has.”

Recidivism rates are high among this population described by SIP Executive Director Terry Enoch as the the most challenging offenders — those most likely to return to criminal life for the lack of having anything better. SIP changes that.

Initiated in 2001, Savannah Impact Program combines the resources of Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police, Chatham County Adult Education, State Board of Pardons and Parole, and the Georgia Department of Corrections, Juvenile Justice and Labor to steer participants away from crime and toward functioning sustainability.

The numbers are impressive: Of the some 600 participants, both adult and juvenile justice violators, that SIP works with each year, 87 percent avoid recidivism. Many have joined the workforce in positions they would not have been able to obtain or even perform without the training they received in SIP. Because of that, SIP has become a model for other cities throughout the country.

Mobile Car Wash is just one of the OJT opportunities funded by SCMPD. Its purpose is not to prepare its members to wash cars expertly, but to help exemplify the work ethic potential employers must have: dependability, honesty, customer service and professional appearances among others. SIP’s Work Ventures’ program also offers Building Maintenance, Graffiti Removal and Landscaping, honing skills and work practices to obtain full-time work outside the city departments.

While support for those striving to change their lives is paramount for SIP, so is its role as an intense supervision program. Participants are required to follow all laws and requirements of their release, along with random drug tests.

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