The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded $3.5 million in grants to go toward helping more than 400 former prison inmates and juvenile delinquents reintegrate into the community and find jobs.
Volunteers of America of Los Angeles is receiving $2 million to serve adults in state or local work-release programs; Centro Community Hispanic Association Inc. in Long Beach is getting $1.5 million to assist juvenile offenders.
Both VOALA and Centro already have existing programs, and have received Labor Dept. funds before, directly or indirectly.
But VOALA spokesman Orlando Ward said the new grant will allow his organization to help that many more people — about 233 men and 17 women.
Both programs consist of a multi-prong approach that includes education, job training and mentoring. Ward said VOALA will also offer help with substance abuse and mental illness if needed.
VOALA is planning to focus on former inmates returning to Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, Skid Row and parts of East LA including City Terrace.
"In those particular communities, we have a lot of returning citizens, and we want to make an impact to ensure their transition is a successful one," Ward said.
Los Angeles was cited by the Labor Dept. as a "promise zone" — one in a handful of economically-depressed communities nationwide that the Obama administration announced it would make an extra effort to help through grants.
The funds will also allow for services not offered before. For example, Centro will be able to provide about 200 of its young clients with legal counsel to help them go through the process of getting their juvenile records sealed — if they’ve shown good conduct.
Centro's executive director Jessica Quintana says many of her clients don't have the money to get their pasts expunged on their own.
As a result "they’re not able to get a good job because of the mistakes that they made as a juvenile," Quintana said.
Speaking on a call to reporters from Chicago, Sec. Tom Perez announced a total of $74 million in grants on Thursday for 37 organizations across the country. He called the grants "critical" on many levels.
"They will help reduce crime, they will help strengthen our economy and help empower our work force, and they will help so many people who have been locked in a cycle of incarceration and hopelessness to get those opportunities to succeed," Perez said.