ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — By age 12, Vince Aragon was involved with gangs and was smoking marijuana. Kicked out of his home when he was 15, he started experimenting with harder narcotics, selling them and committing other crimes. He had a daughter when he was 17, a son when he was 21 and has spent much of his adult life in and out of jail.
After his last stint in jail, he finally decided to change his life and found support at Fathers Building Futures, an economic development initiative of PB&J Family Services. He worked in their mobile detailing business and eventually became a manager.
Now, 2½ years later, he is part of a PB&J collaborative with Roadrunner Food Bank and is learning to drive trucks on food pickup routes while he inches toward getting his commercial driver’s license.
“This program turned my life around 110 percent,” said Aragon, 27. “I’m buying my own house, own a vehicle, have a decent job and have both of my kids back in my life. I’m learning management skills, the kind of stuff I’d never have been able to get if I’d just gone out and got a regular job.”
Josh Jones, also 27, got out of prison about a year ago after serving 6½ years for trafficking methamphetamine. “It’s hard enough to get a job but even tougher if you don’t have identification. All I had was a birth certificate and a prison I.D.,” he said.
He got into PB&J’s Fathers Building Futures program and worked in the wood shop there before being offered a slot in the Roadrunner internship program where he learned the warehouse business so well that he is no longer an intern. He is on staff as a supervisor.
“Before incarceration, I never really had any job experience. Here, I’ve gained a good knowledge of the warehouse and the entire warehouse experience,” he said. “I feel motivated and this place has helped me to grow and basically gave me a career.”
He is also actively involved in the lives of his three children, and has received praise from his girlfriend, he said. “She’s proud of me.”
Of course, people who were convicted of felonies and incarcerated have an especially difficult time even finding a job. This is where the partnership between PB&J and Roadrunner is so important.
Fathers Building Futures needed to find locations where the men in the program could learn job skills, while Roadrunner needed warehouse workers and drivers to expand its mission, explained Teresa Johansen, Roadrunner’s chief operations officer.
On Tuesday, the two organizations celebrated the first year of their partnership and recognized the efforts of more than 20 people who are currently enrolled, or graduated from the warehouse or truck driving internship programs.
It’s a true win-win situation, Johansen said. “Once they get their CDL truck license, you can’t necessarily just go out and get a job. Places won’t hire you without experience. So they get that experience driving a Roadrunner route, going from store to store to do pickups, and we give PB&J the money we would have spent to run that route anyway, which provides the salaries for the guys.”
Upon completion of the internship, the fathers are hired by PB&J to work in its freight and delivery program. Meanwhile, the warehouse workers are gaining experience that can eventually lead to jobs with any number of companies that maintain large warehouse operations.
“By providing dads with a second chance through training and job skill readiness programs, the goal is to break the cycle of criminal activity and also poverty,” said Emet Ma’ayan, PB&J’s director of development and strategic initiatives. “Fathers in the program are able to earn an income for their families and become active parents in their children’s lives.”