Hank Johnson’s resource fair helps ex-offenders

Hank Johnson, the U.S. Rep. for Georgia’s 4th Congressional District, worked with local businesses to host his first Restoration Resource Fair at Georgia Piedmont Technical College in Clarkston Feb. 20 with a focus on ex-offenders and those previously incarcerated.

According to Johnson and those he worked with to bring the event to Clarkston, the goal was to help previously incarcerated people get back on track. To do that, Johnson and his team brought businesses that will hire ex-offenders, healthcare companies, housing agencies, faith-based ministries and clothing and food options to Georgia Piedmont Technical College for a restoration resource fair.

The event also included wellness screenings, criminal review and record expungement, housing and transportation vouchers and mental guidance.

“This is all about improving the lives of our citizens,” Georgia Piedmont Technical College President Tavarez Holston said.

This is Johnson’s fourth resource fair but is the first focused on ex-offenders and the previously incarcerated, according to Johnson’s staff.

“I know that there are thousands of citizens returning to our community every year,” Johnson said. “I know how difficult it is for people to get back up on their feet after getting out of the system. We want to offer people the opportunity to step up and step out, and to come see what’s available to assist you while you take another step forward. That’s what this is all about.”

Vendors at the event included John Marshall School of Law, Georgia Piedmont Technical College, Oakhurst Medical Center, Atlanta Food Bank, Helping Hands, Springfield Baptist Church and Rainbow Park Baptist.

Hank Johnson talking to media at his resource fair.

“When people take the effort to come, it means that they are searching for a better way,” Johnson said. “To have all of these resources available under one roof makes it easier for them. A lot of people don’t have transportation. That’s one of the things we’re offering people—free MARTA cards—so they can get around and follow up on the information that they learned today.”

Offender Alumni Association had a booth set up to raise awareness of its services and offer memberships to ex-offenders.

“[Offender Alumni Association] is a support group for individuals coming out of incarceration, or individuals with mental health challenges or substance abuse disorders,” Offender Alumni Association Lead Facilitator Ladji Ruffin said. “We also offer a support base, and our biggest thing is the peer support. We walk with individuals; we want to help them get connected to jobs, housing and healthcare. It’s easy to get the job, but we want somebody there to walk with individuals to help make sure they can get there on time.”

One person in attendance said that the resource fair was beneficial because it allowed him to get help with the expungement process after a state law changed the nature of his offense.

Stand Inc.’s booth at Hank Johnson’s resource fair. Photos by Jay Phillips.

Mary Griffin, another person in attendance, said that the fair was great and helpful, but that the job-hunting portion was difficult due to the shortage of companies that are willing to hire ex-offenders and felons.

“This was a great event, but there was a little bit of confusion on some things,” Griffin said. “A lot of people have felonies. Getting some companies out here that are felon friendly would be good. A lot of companies say they hire felons, but they actually don’t, because it depends on the type of felony.”

Johnson told those at the fair to stay in touch with him and his office—something that Griffin said she was planning to do— if they couldn’t find work and needed more assistance.

“I hope we’re helping a lot of people with the needs that they have to better themselves,” Johnson said. “In return, what that does, is better our community.”

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