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Jacksonville nonprofit helping ex-offenders re-enter workforce expands to Orlando

Operation New Hope's goal is to create a state-wide network with an office in every major Florida city to help people re-enter the workforce after incarceration.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville-based nonprofit helping hundreds of people re-enter the workforce after incarceration is expanding.

Orlando is the newest location for Operation New Hope, but they aren't stopping there. Their goal is to create a state-wide network with an office in every major Florida city.

Operation New Hope assists about 500 people every year in Jacksonville. Once their Orlando office opens Monday, the chief communications officer says they expect to start helping 100 people.

"It's been a lot of help," said Stephen Maleckar, who is going through the program. "When I got out August the 10th, I didn't have anything and now I just see a lot brighter light."

Maleckar graduates from Operation New Hope's three-week Ready 4 Work program Friday and will spend the next year working with a job coach and mental health specialist. Maleckar was arrested in January on drug charges and served time. Now he's almost nine months clean and sober and is working toward getting a job and a degree.

"When you don't have that help, you don't know where to go," Maleckar said. "You end up going back down the same street you went down and it ain't always a good opportunity."

More than seven and a half million people are released from incarceration every year in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Within three years, two out of three are arrested again and more than half end up back behind bars.

"We're not sending people back to prison, we're putting them to work," said Chief Communications Officer Amanda Mahan. "Over 1,000 people leave the state correction facilities every month across the state. That's 1,000 people that are needing assistance to get reconnected to work and their families and their communities."

Mahan says comprehensive services like theirs are lacking in the U.S.

"There's a lot of organizations out there that are able to do pieces of the pie like maybe solve the transitional housing piece or solve the job piece," Mahan said. "But being able to provide the case management, the job coaching and the mental health counseling all in one place while they're also getting the support and training that is needed in a competitive job market, I think is the secret sauce of what we're doing here."

Mahan says the goal for Operation New Hope is to open five new offices in the next five years. The nonprofit expanded to St. Augustine in recent years and has partners in Tampa.

"I actually see positive things coming in my life every day," Maleckar said. "It's definitely a help when they give you a second chance."

Four presidential administrations have recognized Operation New Hope. Founder and CEO Kevin Gay retired in June.

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