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SOAR Program helps people re-enter Winston-Salem workforce

The six-month program gives people a temporary job with the city and sets them up with workplace tools to get a permanent position.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Re-entering society after serving time is difficult especially when it comes to looking for work. A program in Winston-Salem is making it easier for returning citizens to land a job and grow in their community.

Each time Cedric Allen leaves and returns home, he recites this pledge. 

As I live my life, I will view every challenge as an opportunity to set goals, be of character, gain knowledge, maintain balance, demonstrate perseverance, guard my perspective and invest in my community. Through this process, I’m transformed into a self-sufficient, contributing member of society.

It's a pledge every member of the SOAR - or Successful Outcomes After Release - program takes. SOAR helps former offenders find a job and get back into the workforce in Winston-Salem.

"It changed my life it made me appreciate things better and it gave me a sense of urgency to get back out in the community and do more," Allen said.

Allen went through the six-month program three years ago. He now works full-time as a custodian for the city. Participants are paid to work for Winston-Salem four days a week and take a personal and professional development course on Fridays.

"We're giving them a fish to eat while we're teaching them how to fish," Troy Sneed said. He is the program assistant.

"People make bad choices, mistakes what have, you. There's no one perfect and if we don't help our community who will? I mean, do we throw a community member away or do we leave them and not give them an opportunity to provide legally for their family but then get upset when they revert back to crime?" Sneed said. "I'm not giving them a pass but I'm just saying we do have a responsibility somewhere. So do we provide an opportunity so they can get on the right path if they were on the wrong path or do we just say, 'Hey do you know what? Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.' But you have to have some straps! You have to have some boots too!"

Allen agrees - from the program pledge to his job - the SOAR program changed his life.

"The SOAR program, without it, I know a lot of men and women would be in a different position but coming through that program it has opened up a lot of doors for men and women," Allen said.

It opened a door for Allen to start a non-profit. Social Heart feeds people experiencing homelessness healthy options. Allen said he was homeless for a while and knows how poor food choices can affect people. You can help the mobile food ministry and learn more here.

Allen said he uses much of what he learned in the SOAR program in his job and with his nonprofit.  

"It builds your self-esteem and builds you getting out into the community," Allen said. "It’s a great learning tool."

The SOAR program is taking applications through August 4th. You have to be older than 18, live in Winston-Salem, and have work experience or take a job training course after your release to qualify. You can learn more here.