‘Get REDi’ program supports, encourages entrepreneurship for formerly-incarcerated people

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INDIANAPOLIS – Employment is the number one challenge for people who are trying to reenter society after being behind bars.

Experts say finding a job is one of the key elements in reducing the rate of reoffending. Now there’s a local program working to address this.

All Montez Williams wanted was another chance.

“To me, sometimes cutting grass is like therapy,” he said.

When his past stood in the way of that, he took it upon himself to create an opportunity.

“I created this when I got out of prison because it’s hard reentering and getting employment,” added Williams.

Williams created A.C.E. Project Lawn Care to not only keep himself out of trouble, but other young people and ex-felons in his community.

“That’s what I needed out here,” said Williams. “I feel like I just needed another chance.”

The REDi program gave him that chance. The ReEntry Entrepreneurship Development Initiative is a five-week course for formerly incarcerated people. It teaches things like finances, market research and how to complete that first sale. So far, it’s helped start 30 businesses.

In Marion County, there are roughly 14,000 people living with felony criminal backgrounds.

“There’s about 3,000 people that are released from the Department of Correction to central Indiana and so there’s always this need,” said Neil Metzger, a Manager for the REDi Program.

At the end of the course, there’s a Pitch Night. Entrepreneurs compete for thousands of dollars and professional services.

“This year actually we were able to partner with the city of Indianapolis, so we got some additional funding there,” said Metzger. “The knowledge is already there, so we’re not giving somebody a new business idea we’re helping them understand what it takes to actually do that business.”

Williams won the contest and plans to use the money to grow his lawn care business. He hopes his story will inspire ex-felons, to get out and do something positive.

“Put all that you got into it, like if you were in the streets and put your all into it,” said Williams, “Takes your chances, wins and losses, and keep building.”

The REDi Program will be enrolling again for the end of August. They’re also searching for entrepreneurs who’d like to share their story.

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