It’s Time to Put Your Strengths to Work: Strengths and the Reentry Career Alliance Academy

How many mistakes have you made in your life? How long term were their effects? Did those mistakes lead to other mistakes, until you couldn’t find your way out?  

“This is the first time anyone has ever told me anything good about myself.”

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  • Work.
  • Vocation.
  • Career.
  • Job.

All these are terms that describe a core element in human life. Usually, they relate to the need for a person to secure an income, to provide for a family’s needs. A large portion of most lives are taken up by the performance of work. Part of the happiness, self-worth, and personal fulfillment a person can hope to have is connected to finding work that is engaging, valuable and satisfying. Those who sought work during the “Great Recession” of the late 2000’s and early 2010s remember the frustration of too few openings for too many people. Talent, expertise, and enthusiasm were frustrated by the lack of opportunities. The boom that has occurred over the last several years has provided opportunities and even led to people daring to leave a job that didn’t meet their needs even when they didn’t know what the next opportunity looked like. Crews Strengths LLC was founded to help people find work that was connected to not only their skill set, but work which would allow their talents to find a place to thrive. That has led me to work with a fascinating variety of people: executives, engineers, accountants, government employees, librarians, parolees, and ex-cons.

In the summer of 2016, I attended the first Gallup Strengths summit. Meeting coaches from around the world, conversations centered around how each coach was using the StrengthsFinder assessment. Of all the stories I heard, the one which I was most struck by, was from a gentleman who worked with young men from an aboriginal population who were criminally “at risk”. He shared that many of these young men, after getting their assessment results, said something like “This is the first time anyone has ever told me anything good about myself.” I was deeply touched by this story. I, however, had no idea how it would resonate in my Strengths’ work.

Career & Reentry

On Thursday, Feb 24th, the Reentry Career Alliance Academy (RCAA) of Montgomery County, Ohio graduated its first cohort of 2022 in the auditorium of the County Administration building in downtown Dayton. Ten men, dressed in suits and ties, having completed the four-week program, were recognized for successfully taking a major step towards returning to full participation in society. Some of these well-dressed men had been incarcerated as recently as the previous month.

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Recognizing the value of legitimate work, much of the Reentry Academy program centers around job search and career skills: resume writing, interviewing, dressing for an interview. There are also sessions on life skills. Some of these resemble workshops that could be part of a high school or college curriculum with titles like Financial Awareness: Goal Setting and Budgeting, Employment Planning, and Networking with Purpose. Other classes speak to the transformation the attendees are committed to with sessions entitled: Violence Prevention & Determined Identity, Social Responsibility and Personal Responsibility. This program is not built around self-pity or coddling. Instead, participants commit to the RCAA’s three A’s: Action, Alliance, and Accountability. The three A’s are taught with compassion, understanding and a strong desire to make the community better, both for the general population and the class participants.

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The workshops that make up the RCAA program are presented by an assortment of people including the Reentry Academy staff and community, government and professional leaders who engage the attendees to move forward as full citizens and better people.

CliftonStrengths & Reentry

Starting with the August 2021 cohort, I have had the pleasure of administering the CliftonStrengths (StrengthsFinder) assessment and facilitating my “It’s Time to Put Your Strengths to Work” workshop as part of the Reentry Career Alliance Academy program. The workshop helps the participants understand that they possess unique talents and challenges them to begin to apply those talents, developing them into Strengths to help them succeed.

Based on the work of Donald O. Clifton, PhD, and the Gallup organization, the assessment helps to reveal the participants’ predominant talents or “Strengths”. Understanding these “Strengths”, can help clarify the best way to approach the world and to be successful. Think of talents as the hows, whys and motivation that a person aligns with and helps them thrive. In addition to learning about their own talents, RCAA students are introduced to understanding other’s talents to understand how someone else’s talents can make them approach the world differently than they would.

Having coached and presented for business, government, and not-for-profits, it is remarkable how similar participant’s reactions and insights are whether in the boardroom or in the Reentry Academy classroom.

“How did you figure out so much about me?”

“Have you been eavesdropping on my text?”,

“You mean this is a good thing?”

 “Wow. This is a perfect description of me!”

The insights people get in a very short time is uncanny. Immediately after  completing the assessment, people begin reading the descriptions and begin to have the first inkling of insight. Playing even a small role in the process of people seeing the value they can offer the world and themselves, is very rewarding.

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The RCAA’s value to Montgomery County and the state of Ohio is extraordinary. The recidivism rate during the first three years after an inmate is released, in the state of Ohio, is over 30%.  That is the revolving door frequently referenced in discussion of the prison system. The RCAA has found a formula that breaks that rotation. Since its inception in 2015, more that 600 men and woman have successfully completed the program with a recidivism rate of 5%. Imagine the lives redeemed, purposes discovered, and communities improved. The value however is practical as well as societal. Every released inmate, who does not return to prison saves the citizens of the state over $30,000; the cost to incarcerate one prisoner for one year.

RCAA breaks the revolving door of recidivism. Only 5% for RCAA grads verses a dismal 30% for others.

I am honored to say that I have had a small part in these unique individuals’ road to progress.

This experience has served me at least as much as the attendees. Insights, revelations and even redemption are not unheard of experiences when serving those in the Reentry Academy. For instance, a recent participant, when thinking about how and when he had applied a particular Strength asked, did I mean back in his former (criminal) life. I admitted, he might have used it previously in any aspect of his life, but that we were going to concentrate on the future. He confirmed that is how he wanted to think of it as well.

The Strengths philosophy is to lean into your strengths and work around your weaknesses. No one will be good at everything and trying leads to frustration and failure. Some people are thinkers, some are doers, some lead with their hearts and others with their heads. This is true for everyone in every capacity. Knowing what you bring can allow you to bring it with abundance.

Fredrick Douglas said “You are not judged by the height you have risen, but from the depth you have climbed.”. If men and women who have spent time behind bars can rise out of their pasts and apply their Strengths and use them as building blocks for new lives, imagine what you can accomplish by learning and applying your Strengths.

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Please let me know if you have found this post to be of interest. To make sure others are aware of your thoughts, please go back to this article in LinkedIn and like and comment on the actual post where the most people are likely to see it. Thanks for your kindness.

If you need help with your resume, your job search or in putting your Strengths to work, please contact Crews Strengths.

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