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Special Recognition Award

Each year, 40,000 Illinois women and men come home from prison. Many are looking for a second chance. Ex-offenders often struggle to find steady work and frequently end up re-incarcerated – as reflected in the state’s 55 percent recidivism rate. In North Lawndale, one of the top five Chicago neighborhoods that are destinations for ex-offenders, the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) is re-thinking and re-doing re-entry to change that statistic. NLEN’s flagship program, U-Turn Permitted, helps returnees gain the employment skills and personal habits they need to succeed in the workforce. NLEN works with employers as well as employees to ensure mutual understanding and shared goals.

But NLEN goes far beyond traditional job training. Its most well-known venture, Sweet Beginnings, trains employees as landscapers, beekeepers and food processors at an urban bee farm in the heart of Lawndale at South Independence Boulevard and Flournoy. Honey produced is used to create beeline®, a line of honey-infused skin care products sold throughout the country. This innovative on-the-job training provides participants with a work history and a great sense of accomplishment. The recidivism rate for graduates is a mere four percent.

Complementing this work is NLEN’s Center for Working Families, where neighborhood residents can gain the financial skills needed not only to earn money but to plan, spend and save wisely.

For its commitment, innovation and tenacity, NLEN is the recipient of this year’s Special Recognition Award.