Metro group gets Oklahomans off the streets and into jobs

Right now, there are more than 26,000 people incarcerated in Oklahoma, and when they're released, they'll leave with only $50, a bus ticket, and the clothes on their back... which is why lawmakers say 24-percent of them head right back to prison. But, if they join the TEEM, they can get a second chance.

Jon Granstaff sees one thing when he sees his future. "Just... success," he says. It's a complete change from what he saw before he joined The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM) in the Metro. "I was homeless actually.... and I was staying at the Rescue Mission," says Granstaff.

"We have three areas that we mainly serve them in, which is education, social services and job placements," says Laynie Gottsch, TEEM Mentor Coordinator. TEEM has helped more than 12,000 at-risk, poverty-stricken Oklahomans. And, this month, they're adding one important component that's been missing-- mentoring, with a focus on transitioning non-violent, incarcerated men back into society. "We're just going to bring them here and we're going to match them up with someone who cares about them and someone who wants to see them change," says Gottsch.

Right not, TEEM is in need of mentors, like Jeff Galley. "The catalyst for change in any person's life, my life or someone else's, is a relationship," says Galley, explaining why he joined TEEM.

From transitioning back into society, working toward a GED, and preparing for the job force, TEEM and its mentors are there as role models and people to guide them through the process. "Do they need a state ID or social security? Do they need glasses? Do they need clothes?," says Gottsch, explaining the array of ways TEEM helps its clients. "We also make sure they know how to answer the questions that employers ask when they find out they have a record," she explains. TEEM not only offers typical education, but also life skills courses and the opportunity to learn a trade. "However many hours of class they take equates to a certain amount of days off of their sentence," says Gottsch.

"Since (I joined TEEM), I got a job, a house, and a car," says Granstaff, with a smile. Just like Granstaff, 82-percent of those who train for the GED at TEEM, get it on their first try. TEEM also has an 80-percent success rate of placing clients in jobs.

Kris Steele, Executive Director of TEEM, explains why he's so passionate about this program. "Oklahoma's second fastest growing expenditure is corrections. We're now spending more money on corrections than ever in state history, over $500-million," he says. "Our prison capacities are at 98-percent, and we have a backlog of 1,800 inmates sitting in county jails, waiting for prison space. Yet, despite all of this, our crime rate continues to grow," he says. Steele says something isn't working, and he wants to change those statistics.

Other Oklahoma statistics show 70-percent of children with incarcerated parents will go on to become incarcerated themselves at some point in their lives. And, with many of them going right back into the system upon release, TEEM wants to break that cycle by showing them change is possible. "For me it's all about helping people grow to be all that they were created to be," says Galley.

"TEEM has given me the tools that I needed to take the right steps to get to where I am," says Granstaff.

In order to make this program work, TEEM is in need of male mentors to participate in the program. "It's important for people to realize how easy it is to be a mentor," says Galley. "Really it's just sitting down and developing a friendship with somebody," he says. If you are an Oklahoma male in the Metro, who has an hour to spare each week, and you'd like to make a difference, click here.

"It's amazing what the power of a positive role model and having someone to stand beside you and guide you can do," says Gottsch.

TEEM also helps women. Right now, they're working on securing funding to create a program to help incarcerated females.

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