BROOKLYN NAVY YARD — A program that turns former prisoners into entrepreneurs has moved into the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Refoundry, which teaches former inmates how to build, then sell their own repurposed furniture, has leased 7,900 square feet of space at the Navy Yard.
The organization took on five trainees, all from the city, for its pilot program that launched last May. With the move, the group hopes to expand to include 20 to 25 participants in the next 12 to 18 months.
The group teaches participants how to build handmade furniture from discarded materials, then helps trainees who have honed their craft start their own business.
“Most people getting out of prison are getting jobs that are non-aspirational, low skill or no skill jobs,” co-founder Tommy Safian said. “Most people, all they really need is a little encouragement or support and they can flourish.”
Refoundry recruits its participants through existing social services organizations that help recent inmates find jobs. With the move, the organization will be working with the Navy Yard’s employment center to find new participants.
While the current participants from Refoundry’s pilot program are still in training, the idea is that they will be able to independently create a brand under which they can sell their own goods.
Safian said Refoundry will help its participants develop a business plan, while providing a work space, tools, and bookkeeping services to start. Participants can hire other trainees to work under them.
Refoundry will also fund participants’ salaries for a transitional period, until they can get on their feet.
The organization, which is currently funded by sales of the participants’ own furniture at the Brooklyn Flea, has been paying trainees $13.75 an hour, plus a one percent commission on sales.
So far, they’ve sold about $75,000 worth of furniture. Safian is hoping that with a growing workforce, the group will be able to boost sales through partnerships with local retailers and start offering benefits to participants.
Safian says the organization has been paying for everything out of pocket to avoid restrictions from using government funding, so the group has been collecting donations on its website to supplement furniture sales.
“What we need is the cost of two people at Rikers for a year,” Safian said. “Compared to the money spent in this system, that’s nothing.”
To learn more about Refoundry, or to submit a donation click here.