In Washington D.C., over 60% of people with criminal records are rearrested within five years of their release. Ready, Willing and Working (RWW) wants to tackle that problem. This program is dedicated to reducing criminal recidivism and homelessness by providing formerly incarcerated and unhoused individuals with jobs and support.
Brosmer, president of the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District (BID) and founder of RWW said the community resisted the concept at first.
“There was a lot of resistance to that element,” Brosmer said. “I’d seen it work in New York and my board was really courageous in letting me bring the program to Washington.”
In doing so, the program has proven to be largely successful. 70% of participants in the program “remain employed, independently housed and drug-free after three years of entering the program.”
Founded in 2013, Ready, Willing and Working is modeled after the Doe Fund’s New York initiative, Ready, Willing and Able. The program’s goal is to help individuals escape cycles of homelessness, relapse and welfare dependency in what the RWW calls a “paid-work rehabilitation program.”
Brosmer said that New York provided them with the “magic formula” for what was needed in founding this program.
“That’s to provide a loving environment for these guys; one where they feel safe and cared for and aren’t afraid to be part of mainstream society,” Brosmer said.
Pushing a Bucket
Andrew Lee began pushing a bucket. After years of being in and out of jail, he decided that RWW was a way to kickstart his life again.
At first, he said he had a 90-day plan to get himself back to working in the hotel industry, but after the RWW surprised him on his birthday with lunch, he wanted to give the program more of a chance.
“That changed my mindset that day. I said, ‘well, wait a minute. This is a pretty good thing. Let me stick around and finish this and see where it goes,’” Lee said.
Now, Lee serves as the Vice President of Ready, Willing and Working.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Lee said. “We’ve had guys come in here with prison mentality, and now, they’re happy, productive citizens. We are not here to judge. They’ve had enough judgment in the past standing in front of a judge.”
He said a lot of people who have been incarcerated use that as an “excuse” when it comes to the difficulty of getting a job.
“The overall mentality of the prison population is ‘it’s over now. I have a record. I can’t do anything but be a criminal the rest of my life,’” Lee said.
Lee said finding a job after incarceration is not as hard as people make it out to be. He said that men with RWW have gone on to start their own businesses and become property owners.
“I understand how you have mixed emotions because at some point you start saying, ‘well I can’t buy a house pushing a bucket,’ and in reality, you can,” Lee said. “I’ve got guys on my team who have bought houses, so it can be done, but you just got to have the mindset to do it.”
The Men in Blue
The RWW has “Clean Teams” who, under the guise of BID, go around the neighborhood cleaning public spaces.
“Before the team, before the BID started, you would consider Capitol Hill dirty and dangerous,” Brosmer said. “Our BID services are meant to supplement, not replace, what the city does. It just enhances what they can do.”
However, during the early days of the program, Brosmer said there was pushback from the community because they didn’t like the idea of having “undesirables” as a labor force. But, leaders on the Capitol Hill board gave them a chance.
“I think it just takes time,” Brosmer said. “I was frustrated the first few years where I was really trying to shove it down the city’s throat, you know, this is the best thing ever, but I learned that we have to prove the product and I believe we really have.”
Over the years, the community has taken to the idea of Ready, Willing and Working beautifying DC neighborhoods like Capitol Hill. McKenna Pugh, marketing director for RWW said people have started recognizing the Clean Teams calling them the “Men in Blue.” She said that they continue to have positive interactions with the community during events like the Capitol Hill Community Fourth of July Parade, where they march every year.
“The Men in Blue come behind us and everyone screams and is clapping and is so happy,” Pugh said. “We get letters and emails from people about how grateful they are to see them around and have them help out.”
RWW employs primarily men, but two out of their 60 employees are currently women. They have seven contracts in DC, including Capitol Hill, Mount Vernon Triangle, Adams Morgan, Capitol Riverfront, Barracks Row Main Street, Pennsylvania Avenue East and Mid City.
Pugh said that the Men in Blue are doing more than just pushing buckets and cleaning the streets.
“They’re helping people clear their sidewalks when it snows and if they see someone carrying something heavy, they’re going to help them,” Pugh said. “They have made such a positive impact on the community and people know who they are and really appreciate them.”
Magic & Miracles
As a non-profit organization, the RWW relies on donations and outside funding for its projects. Monday, Oct. 25 thru Wednesday, Oct. 27, Ready, Willing and Working will be hosting their 12th Annual Magic & Miracles Gala.
This free virtual event hosted over three days will consist of a silent auction and a video presentation to honor the “Men in Blue.” Auction items will include artwork from local artists, a children’s birthday party package, vacations to tropical destinations and gift certificates.
“It’s really cool this year too because we have so many vacations and gift certificates, people from all over the country are able to bid and participate,” Pugh said.
The Gala will also document the launch of Work Works America. This organization will also follow along the New York Ready, Willing and Able model to create a national approach to the work that Ready, Willing and Working does.
“We’re working together to build sort of a roadmap for other cities across the country to replicate,” Brosmer said. “You get people all the time saying ‘you know what this is a great idea, we can use that in our city’ and what we want to try to do is make it less scary and a little easier for them to replicate.”
Ready, Willing and Working also host a GED program, where employees can take classes to earn their GED. In 2019, they hosted a graduation ceremony for men who had completed the program. Brosmer said that the pandemic put a halt on the GED program, but hope to get it back up and running soon.
Brosmer said RWW’s biggest goal is to help people “realize their own life dreams.”
“Some of our guys have been with us for 10 to 12 years and this is the most comfortable life they’ve ever had,” Brosmer said. “We’d like, from the beginning, like to say you can come work for us. We’ll give you all the skills you need and then, go off and make room for somebody else to have that opportunity.”