WEST ENGLEWOOD — The Chicago Transit Authority is expanding its Second Chance internship program for ex-offenders into an area where the agency needs replacement employees.
CTA officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Friday that starting next month some of the 265 people enrolled in the program will be offered training as diesel mechanics. Up until now, they've been considered "interns" working to clean and service CTA rail cars and buses.
CTA President Forrest Claypool said diesel mechanics are in "high demand," and that while the Second Chance program is, in itself, "gratifying," in providing former criminals and substance abusers a way to turn their lives around, expanding it to training for mechanics only makes sense for the service.
"It seems silly that we're working with people right under our noses who are proving their strength and their work ethic — and not to keep them," Claypool said at a news conference at a West Englewood CTA garage.
"This is a wonderful program," said Jakeisha Beals, a 31-year-old graduate of the internship program who now holds down a full-time job as a rail-car service coordinator. "This program has changed my life tremendously."
Beals said she entered the program in 2012, and she displayed her resolve to turn her life around by saying, "When I walked through the door my first week, I said I'm gonna retire from here."
According to the CTA, more than 500 people have taken part in Second Chance since it was launched in 2011, and of the 113 graduates hired to full-time CTA jobs Beals is one of seven promoted to manager positions.
"I am an advocate for this program," Beals said, saying it had changed how her family and especially how her 15-year-old daughter looks at her.
Emanuel thanked Beals for "your courage and the stamina to change your life" and presented her as a shining example what the program can achieve.
"If you do not want an ex-offender to be a repeat offender, you need to have a job," Emanuel said.
Launched in 2011, Second Chance quadrupled in size in 2013. It survived a labor dispute at the end of that year to continue on, and now it's having its scope expanded as well.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) said it was going to prompt the CTA to change its name to the "Chicago Transition Authority," in that it is "transitioning the unemployed into employment."
According to the CTA, it employs 400 bus mechanics, but currently has 30 vacant positions, meaning it will be "providing consistent opportunities for good-paying jobs" for those who complete the training.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: