A group of TYROs in the Toledo, Ohio area recently participated in the fifth annual “Dunkin’ 4 Donations” charity event held December 21 at Scott High School’s Ben E. Williams Field House. Founded under the brand, “Hands Over Hearts”, the basketball charity event is held each year to raise money and collect toys for local shelters and less fortunate and needy families.
RIDGE case manager and facilitator Willie Knighten helped to organize a group of nearly 20 TYRO men to either participate or attend the event. The TYROs, along with other local men, not only gave back in the form of donations, but also demonstrated to the city’s urban youth population what a good role model looks like – something desperately needed for many of today’s inner city youth.
The event was featured in “The Sojourner’s Truth“, a local Toledo publication. Society editor Carla Yvette writes, “Former gang leader Willie Knighten, Facilitator and case manager for The Ridge Project, an organization that specializes in healthy families, responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage along with men of TYRO, an accountability community for ex-offenders, says they were honored to be a part of the event when approached by organizers and donated over
It has been said that perseverance is not a long race, but many short races one after another. This certainly holds true for Ms. Dawn Lamb, single mother of two, who is a TYRO making history as the first woman to gain employment through one of our partner trucking agencies.
Dawn came to The Ridge Project via a referral. When she initially filled out the application, a local facilitator, Bryan Luton, was able to meet with her. Dawn told Bryan that she was interested in obtaining her CDL. He cautioned her that the company was a flatbed steel-hauler that requiring hands-on freight. He also described the position and the fact that it was a physically demanding job. Her response was quick and simple – that she was not afraid of getting dirty. Dawn entered the program and went to each and every class on time. She would often talk about how tired she was because she worked a late-night job in addition to participating in the program. But, she was not going to let that hold her back. Bryan gave her a YMCA scholarship form to get a free membership to work out so that she could condition her body in preparation for job.
Dawn took the recommendation and began working out regularly. After she graduated from the TYRO program, she went straight to our truck-driving partner and entered the driving program. They immediately reported that she was at the top of her class. Dawn aced all of her classes and passed her CDL driver’s exam on the first try, when many others (men included) had to take it more than once!
Soon after, Dawn pursued an opening with the company that employs graduates of the program. They initially expressed some concern about her ability to do the physical labor, but Bryan assured them that she could get the job done. It wasn’t long before the instructors reported that she was doing extremely well, excelling in every area. They even remarked that, in one instance, there were two men trying to tie down a load who were unsuccessful in their efforts. But Dawn succeeded in tying down her load and entered the truck ready to work.
She also earned accolades for being a safe driver and for keeping up with her given workloads. When others had their doubts about the power of this young lady, her determination triumphed. Dawn is living proof that, with perseverance, you can achieve any goal that you set your mind to, even when the odds are stacked against you!
Sometimes a bit of inspiration is all it takes to jump start transformation in our lives. TYRO Danny C. is living proof of this. While incarcerated at Toledo Correctional, he heard a speech from a RIDGE Project facilitator that he credits as the beginning of the turnaround that has become his life. “When I heard him talk about his life and how he changed, it made me want to change as well.”
One of the best parts of his recent promotion is that it allows him to make hiring decisions. This has enabled him to “hire more TYROs like me; I have had 3 TYROs in the last week.” This is significant because Danny wants very badly to give back to others that are trying to start over – a desire he says he learned from his facilitator. The only thing in Danny’s life that he values more than helping others is the relationships he is building within his family. “When I got sent away, my family didn’t want nothing to do with me,” he recalls. “Now my ex-wife and I are learning to get along and, because we have a daughter together, that’s important. It’s important she knows her family is there.”
What Danny has done is nothing short of spectacular. He finished his RIDGE Project courses and officially became a TYRO, which in turn motivated him to “look for work right away as soon as I was released from prison.” As it turns out, he returned to the same job he had been forced to leave when he was first incarcerated.
He recalls how tough that was. “To start with, some people did not want to give me another chance because they remembered who I was. So, I told them I was different now and talked to them about the classes I had and stuff like that. Then they voted to bring me back.” That was six months ago and to say that this TYRO has made the most of his opportunity would be an understatement. “I came on as a driver putting in a lot of hours per week. After a bit, they saw what my work was like and promoted me. Now I’m a supervisor.”
Louis “Louie” Nanez, Jr. grew up on the west side of San Antonio in the mid-1970s. Like so many kids in urban areas, he was exposed to gang violence, drugs, and the rougher aspects of street life at an early age. At 17 years old, his parents knew they had to do something and pushed him hard to enlist in the military. He did, joining the U.S. Navy upon graduation.
However, Louis’s troubles didn’t end there. He became heavily involved in the party life that often envelopes young men, drinking at first, and then moving on to more serious habits like cocaine. But, life kept rolling on. Louie married and soon had three daughters to take care of. “My addiction was pretty bad when my kids were young,” Louie explains. “I was arrested several times in the 1990s.” But, with the resolve to come clean, he was eventually able kick his drug addiction.
It appeared that things were turning around. Louie was feeling good about losing the addict label. But, it wasn’t long before his inner struggles manifested themselves in another way. Anger became his new outlet. He lashed out at everyone. Frustration and irritation ruled his life. Then, after an assault incident in 2010, Louie was arrested on multiple charges and sent to prison. Louie was determined to keep his family together. But, life in prison doesn’t make this an easy task. So, Louie began exploring programs within the prison system and was referred to one administered by The RIDGE Project, the TYRO Dads program.
As many readers know, TYRO literally means to be “a man worth following.” At first, Louie didn’t buy it. He didn’t think one program could make that much difference in a man’s life. But after a couple of sessions, he was all in. “It was relief,” Louie commented. “Hearing other men’s stories and how they were proud to share about fatherhood made me want to do the right thing.” Louie would send letters to his wife Melissa about what he was learning and how he was becoming a man of honor. During TYRO, he knew he wanted to move onto the next level and he enrolled in The RIDGE Project’s couple communication program, a curriculum that teaches men how to communicate with their wives.
After 18 months, Louie was released from prison. Last October, he took another big step and moved to Hawaii. He and Melissa now live on the island of Maui. Louie works as a tour guide on Mt. Haleakalā. “I am learning to hunt wild pigs and spear fish. I’m reinventing myself at 51 years old,” he beams.
“The RIDGE Project has changed my life,” Louie says. “My wife reaches out to grab my hand now when I need it. I have a great job now.” He explains how it has been a lot of hard work, but that it’s worth every bit of it. Louie’s advice to other clients considering the TYRO program is simple. “Do it! There really is life after prison, and you really can change the world one person at a time.”