<< back to releases

Press Contact

Laura McElroy
MK Communications




North Lawndale Employment Network Given
Special Recognition Award at Annual CNDA
Organization Offers a Second Chance to Former Offenders

CHICAGO (February 28, 2012) – Each year, 40,000 Illinois men and women come home from prison, eager for a second chance. But often the adjustment is a struggle. One organization in Lawndale, though, is re-thinking re-entry and has designed a series of programs to help former offenders succeed in the workplace. For this creativity and commitment, the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) is the 2012 recipient of the Special Recognition Award presented at the 18th annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA), managed by Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago (LISC Chicago). The award is given to a new or emerging organization that has developed an innovative community project or has served as a critical service provider.
Barred from many types of employment, ex-offenders often struggle to find steady work and frequently end up re-incarcerated – as reflected in the state’s 55 percent recidivism rate. Seeing up close how re-incarceration collapses families and communities across Chicago, NLEN set out to tackle the issue in its own neighborhood.

Working with partner agencies, NLEN has designed and implemented programs to help former inmates secure jobs with family-supporting wages and improve the earning potential of Lawndale as a whole.

NLEN’s flagship program, U-Turn Permitted, trains men and women with criminal convictions in the skills needed to re-enter and excel in the workforce. In addition to employment skills, participants are taught the habits, attitudes and values necessary to succeed. Recognizing that employer attitudes are often a major hindrance to employment, NLEN has adopted an innovative approach to collaboratively working with employers to find a mutually beneficial fit.

But NLEN goes far beyond traditional job training. Its most well-known venture, Sweet Beginnings, trains employees as landscapers, beekeepers and food processors at an urban bee farm in the heart of Lawndale. Honey produced is used to create beeline®, honey-infused skin care products sold throughout the country. This innovative on-the-job training provides participants with a work history and a great sense of accomplishment. The recidivism rate for graduates is a mere 4 percent.

Complementing this work is NLEN’s Center for Working Families (CWF), where neighborhood residents can gain the financial skills needed not only to earn money but to spend and save it wisely. The national CWF network is based on the recognition that financial literacy and stability are essential in turning around the economic trajectory of a family and of a neighborhood.

NLEN’s work goes beyond helping individuals reach their potential and seize their second chance.  It has begun to influence the conversation and change the tone surrounding the hiring of former offenders.

“While re-incarceration nationally is a true epidemic, our agency is working to decrease its rate of occurrence in North Lawndale,” said Brenda Palms Barber, executive director of NLEN. “Besides helping clients gain job skills and full time employment, we also help them restore a sense of self-worth and belonging. We’re not only transforming individuals, but positively impacting a community.”

The Special Recognition Award comes with a $5,000 cash award.

About CNDA

This year’s ceremony, held at the Chicago Hilton & Towers, attracted more than 1400 people, including CNDA chair Wim Elfrink, executive vice president and chief globalization officer of Cisco, and leaders of Chicago’s non-profit, corporate and philanthropic sectors.  A forum, following a fast-paced presentation style, was held prior to the award ceremony. Four city leaders from varying fields presented their five big ideas for making the 21st century city.

Established in 1995, CNDA recognizes outstanding achievements in neighborhood real estate development and community building, especially the achievements of community development corporations, other community-based organizations, and for-profit developers working to build healthier neighborhoods in the Chicago metropolitan area.  Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago (LISC Chicago) manages the awards, in keeping with its mission to combine corporate, government and philanthropic resources to help nonprofit community development corporations revitalize city neighborhoods. LISC Chicago has invested $179 million in local comprehensive development programs, leveraging an additional $4.7 billion in community investment from other sources. The result is 29,000 units of affordable housing, over 5 million square feet of commercial space, and a variety of social and economic development programs.

“Community development is a complicated business and requires the participation of many people and institutions – from neighborhood residents to government officials, corporate leaders, developers and architects,” said Susana L. Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director. “Our purpose at the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards is to acknowledge and celebrate those individuals and organizations whose ingenuity and creativity make Chicago such a great city.”
This year’s awards are generously underwritten by:

Allstate; Bank of America; BMO Harris Bank; Charter One; Chase; The Chicago Community Trust; Cisco; Citi; LISC/Chicago; Northern Trust; PNC; Polk Bros. Foundation; The Private Bank; The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; State Farm; US Bank; Applegate & Thorne-Thomsen, PC; Brinshore Development; Camiros, Ltd.; Chicago Bears; Chicago Community Loan Fund; Cole Taylor Bank; Community Reinvestment Fund; Enterprise Community Investment, Inc.; Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago; Fifth Third Bank ; FirstMerit Bank; The Habitat Company; Holsten Real Estate Development; Illinois Housing Development Authority; MB Financial Bank; Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP; Matanky Realty; Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C.; National Equity Fund; Reznick Group; Teska Associates, Inc.; Urban Development Fund, LLC; Urban Partnership Bank; and The Walsh Group.

For more information, visit www.lisc-cnda.org.