Part 4: Connections to Success Provides Solutions to Those Struggling to Find Employment

Published: December 18, 2019

“Tell me about yourself.”

Many who hear this in a job interview might find it easy to think of accomplishments and goals that an employer should know.

Connections to Success Participant Alexandra Camberos performs her 30-Second Commercial in front of friends and family during the Next Steps Ceremony on Feb. 5. (Video by Emily Hood)

For those who have been incarcerated, this phrase can be completely overwhelming.

Connections to Success works to change that.

“One of the things all of our participants learn and practice is a 30-second commercial,” Stacey McKnight, Marketing Manager for Connections to Success, said. “If you’ve had a variety of experiences, and you’re just coming out of incarceration or you’ve been unemployed for a long time, that can be a challenging question. Where do you start? The 30-second commercial provides a structure for saying who you are, what you’re interested in, what your strengths are, what you’ve been recognized for in past positions, and what your goals are in employment.”

Connections to Success is based in St. Louis and Kansas City to help those coming out of incarceration and poverty achieve economic independence. Their three week training program provides participants with professional development skills and business clothes to aid in the job search process.

Darlyshia Menzie cheers as her student, Tori Banks receives her diploma at the Next Steps Ceremony on Feb. 5. Participants attend the ceremony after participating in Connections’s three-week professional development program. (Photo by Emily Hood)

“I believe that those professional development skills are really setting a foundation for them to really be able to have employment at any point in their life,” Regional Training Coordinator Darlyshia Menzie said. “I don’t care what job it is. They’ll be able to get employment because they know what to do and how to do talk about it.”

Demetrius Washington was released from prison in 2018 and attended Connections to Success’ first class held in Algoa Correctional Facility in 2018. He used the resources provided to him in his class to be able to find his current jobs.

“It was like a family atmosphere,” Washington said. “You could feel the compassion.”

Helping those who have been incarcerated is one of the many missions of Connections to Success by providing a network to help deal with challenges in employment and personal life. Faculty members and class participants work to create an inviting atmosphere to work through their struggles.

“People who are participating in class, they bond with the staff, but they also really bond with each other,” McKnight said. “Especially for people who are coming out of incarceration, sometimes they don’t want to return to the same network they had, so they’re on their own in a sense. Maybe they burned bridges with their family members and their friends, so they’re kind of having to start from scratch.”

Formerly known as Dress for Success Midwest, the organization provides participants with a business outfit and accessories to wear for job interviews. Many participants who are looking to apply for jobs do not have these clothes and cannot afford to buy them, and having access to professional clothes can help them build confidence and secure their positions.

“When they feel confident, when they know who they are, they’re able to go into an interview and focus on the interview, as opposed to going to the interview and focused on what’s going on out here that they have to take care of,” Menzie said.

Emily Hood

In each three-week program, participants learn skills such as how to conduct a job interview, complete a resume and make healthy decisions. Every program ends with a Next Steps Ceremony, where participants are able to show off their new professional attire and perform their 30-Second Commercial in front of friends and family. 

“For some people, that’s the only graduation that they’ve ever gone through because not everyone completed high school,” McKnight said. “To be able to stand up in front of people that matter to them and have someone else see and celebrate their success is really incredible to watch. There’s lots of tears and really great moments.”

For many who participate in the program, Connections to Success is more than just a program to help get a job. Participants are paired with a Life Coach who is able to help them with any obstacles they might encounter in their new careers to support its participants for years to come. 

“It showed me just to stay connected to the people that are doing the right thing,” Washington said. “That’s what Connections to Success is.”

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