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Strive for Better

BUENA VISTA, CO (August 30, 2021) — At Breakthrough, we believe in the power of collaboration. On August 30th we hosted “Strive for Better”, an event to educate Colorado employers about the power of hiring Fair Opportunity talent and to demonstrate how non-profits, corporations, and state partners can work together to address recidivism and the labor crisis.

We want you to know that hiring Fair Opportunity Talent is the perfect solution to address our state’s problems regarding the labor shortage and recidivism. Here’s why:

  • The current unemployment rate of people on parole is 30.5% and people on parole report that they are unable to secure jobs due to their felony convictions even when employers recognize that they have the right skills for the job
  • The turnover rate for employees with criminal records is roughly 13% lower than that of traditional employees
  • There are more job openings in the U.S. this spring than before the pandemic hit in March 2020

Employers in manufacturing, hospitality, leisure, construction, and many other sectors are struggling to find quality employees. Meanwhile, people returning home after serving their time are uniquely positioned to fill these roles. The Colorado Department of Corrections’ Take TWO (Transitional Work Opportunity) program and Breakthrough are collaborating to bridge the gap between employers and returning citizens. Investing in Fair Opportunity talent means that we need to ensure that people inside prison are provided proper re-entry and job readiness training resources. This approach will lead to reduced recidivism, increased financial security, and people in the system contributing to Colorado’s economy.

The Strive for Better event allowed over 50 employers, state officials, and community partners to take a tour of Buena Vista Correctional Facility’s Transitional Work Center (TWC) where currently incarcerated men are afforded the opportunity to leave the facility during the day to work with Take TWO employers. We then convened at the Surf Hotel & Chateau to keep the conversation going about the importance of investing in Fair Opportunity Talent through educational programs like Breakthrough and learn from current Take TWO Employers. A powerful panel discussion moderated by Stacey Putka, Breakthrough’s Executive Director, captured the importance of hiring people with criminal histories. Panelists included Attorney General Phil Weiser; Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections Dean Williams; CEO of Basic Industries Drew Patterson; Executive Director of Televerde Foundation Michelle Cirocco; Production Supervisor for Basic Industries Jacob Rocha; and Program Director of Breakthrough—our very own Izzy McCarragher. Watch video below to get a glimpse into the thoughts of some of our panelists and additional community stakeholders.

We encourage YOU to take part in our Fair Opportunity Hiring movement. Because change doesn’t just happen, it’s made. Through compassion, connection, and community, we can provide meaningful opportunities to people with criminal histories while addressing the labor crisis with our local businesses.

There are three things you can do TODAY to make a difference.

  1. Reach out to Melinda Nedd, Project Liaison for the Take TWO Program ( about becoming a Take TWO employer. You can hire people from a variety of correctional facilities so ask her regardless of your geographic location.
  2. Reach out to Ismerai McCarragher ( about becoming a Fair Opportunity Employer with Breakthrough and hiring our people post release. We have a Fair Opportunity Employer Toolkit that we would love to share with you that covers the 10 best practices for obtaining and maintaining fair opportunity talent.
  3. Start utilizing Honest Jobs. You’ll have access to thousands of people with fantastic talent.

Once again, Breakthrough would like to thank our esteemed panelists, collaborative CDOC Partners, and our incredible sponsors, Checkr, Fading West, Honest Jobs, and Surf Hotel.

Strive for Better Panelist Biographies

We aren’t kidding when we say, “esteemed panelists”. Check out their biographies below to learn more about the individuals championing this cause.

Phil Weiser

Phil Weiser is the 39th Attorney General of Colorado. As the state’s chief legal officer, Weiser is committed to protecting the people of Colorado and building a law office that will serve all Coloradans effectively. AG Weiser has advocated for programs that provide sound and effective alternatives to incarceration where appropriate, including drug treatment and diversion programs. Last week, Weiser and local government leaders unveiled a first-of-its-kind joint framework for distributing over $400 million that Colorado stands to receive from litigation settlements to address the opioid crisis. The Department of Law announced several grants awarded in 2020 to support programs promoting positive school justice partnerships. And through a collective partnership called Healthy Youth/Strong Colorado Fund, the Department and its partners have pledged to support nonprofit organizations that offer mental health support and services to empower youth, as well as helping to avoid the criminal justice system involvement and addressing the school-to-prison pipeline.

Dean Williams

Dean Williams was appointed Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections by Governor Jared Polis on January 8, 2019. Prior to joining the Colorado DOC, he was the Commissioner of Corrections in Alaska where he oversaw the operation of community jails, halfway houses, pretrial and sentenced facilities, probation, parole and pre-trial efforts in the state.

Dean served in several capacities during his time in Alaska, to include: Special Assistant to Governor Walker, Special Assistant in the Alaska Department of Public Safety, Researcher for the Alaska Legislature, Executive Director of the Downtown Soup Kitchen, Juvenile Justice Superintendent, Associate Attorney and Paralegal Assistant for the State of Alaska Department of Law, Youth Counselor for the Dept. of Juvenile Justice and Reserve Police Officer for the Anchorage Police Department. Dean holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Communications from Ohio University.

Ismerai McCarragher

Izzy believes people are not meant to do life alone and that laughter is healing. Her belief stems from personal experience. When she immigrated from Mexico with her mother, the community they found helped a single mother get back on her feet. Izzy was adopted by her father. The acceptance extended to her by her adopted father’s family helped strengthen her drive for connection and humor. Izzy had the privilege of being mentored by professionals. This mentorship allowed her to practice her skills while learning from the lives of others. These experiences led Izzy to gain her Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology and her Master of Arts in Youth and Family Development. Today she uses her expertise to form community and educational programs.

Drew Patterson

Drew Patterson is the owner of Basic Industries, a lumber remanufacturing company, producing wood components sold into various industries. He has been working with the Take TWO program for the last two years and has worked with over 20 individuals from the Transitional Work Center in that time. Drew, his wife, Laura, and his 2 daughters, Elliott and Shiloh moved their home and business to Buena Vista 2 years ago to enjoy the plethora of outdoor activities, be closer to his mill and to work with this program. The relationships with the participants, the DOC staff and other business partners has given him a deeper purpose in his work.

Jacob Rocha

Jacob Rocha is the Production Supervisor for Basic Industries. He started working for them while he was incarcerated at Buena Vista Correctional Facility as part of the Take TWO program. He has lived in Colorado for about 15 years and is the proud father of two children.

Michelle Cirocco

Michelle Cirocco is Chief Social Responsibility Officer for Televerde and the Executive Director of Televerde Foundation where she is committed to using business as a force for good. In recognition of her efforts, she was recently named one of the World-Changing Women by Conscious Company magazine and Most Admired Leader by Phoenix Business Journal.