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PA CareerLink: Building Bridges to Brighter Futures with REAL Reentry image
May 30, 2024
PA CareerLink: Building Bridges to Brighter Futures with REAL Reentry
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The PA CareerLink® at Luzerne and Schuylkill Counties supports employers looking to meet their hiring needs and connect job seekers with resources they need to secure long-term employment. Follow along for local employer spotlights and updates on training opportunities and more available at your local PA CareerLink locations.

REAL Reentry Opens Doors for Justice-Involved Youth in Luzerne and Schuylkill Counties


If you take one look at John, a successful heavy equipment operator, you’re unlikely to assume he’s had a troubled past or has overcome hurdles related to securing living wage employment. Not too long ago, the job he holds today — with stringent experience requirements and a clean motor vehicle record — would have been out of his reach. John’s past was marred by drug charges, casting a shadow over his job prospects, particularly in driving-related roles.



But, thanks to the transformative power of programs like the PA CareerLink® REAL Reentry, John — and hundreds of other justice-involved youth aged 18-24 in Luzerne and Schuylkill counties — are making the most of a unique, second chance. The REAL Reentry program is designed to open doors, help people break free from cycles of recidivism, and address past decisions that may otherwise plague their job search — sometimes for decades. Beyond helping with finding employment opportunities, the REAL Reentry program emphasizes the pivotal role of education in fostering non-criminal behavior through upskilling and the training necessary to access enticing careers. This program focuses on:

  • Reconnecting with community
  • Engaging in workforce and education development
  • Advocating for success
  • Leading a path forward

Reflecting on his experiences, John acknowledges the role of REAL Reentry in shifting his trajectory. From the start, he was paired with a dedicated mentor and Career Navigator. Navigators are specially trained to guide participants in finding educational services and identifying professional development opportunities. In John’s case, he was encouraged to start (and complete) a vocational program and acquire necessary skills to enter his chosen field.

Educational and training opportunities for REAL Reentry participants can include:

  • GED/High School Equivalency continued education opportunities
  • Interest and skills assessments occupation-specific skills training
  • On-the-job training and upskilling
  • Work experience opportunities/career placement
  • Workforce development

Overcoming barriers to employment

A foundational element of the REAL Reentry program is personalized, whole-person support. Participants are also paired with a Behavioral Health Advocate (BHA). A BHA helps each participant identify and overcome unique barriers as they transition back into their community. BHAs are masters-level professionals who specialize in mental health and counseling. They are trained, experienced, and ready to support young adults using trauma-informed care and one-on-one mentoring to promote awareness and self-sufficiency.

The REAL Reentry program is not just about addressing the immediate needs of justice-involved youth. It goes beyond that, tackling the underlying barriers that often go unnoticed. From mental health issues to fractured support systems, from socioeconomic factors to criminal records, the program equips individuals with the tools and strategies they need to overcome these challenges and pursue meaningful employment. The support is tailored to each individual’s unique needs, whether it’s providing bus passes, reimbursing for work clothing, assisting with Driver’s License/Photo I.D, or offering gift card incentives for attending professional development workshops.

Along with the tangible limitations, the invisible stigma associated with criminal history can present formidable barriers to employment. Despite qualifications and aspirations, many job seekers with a criminal record will face persistent rejections and setbacks, reinforcing the pervasive impact of societal biases. This program also connects new participants with individuals, like John, who have found success. Providing participants with a sense of community, connection, insight, and support from others who were once in a similar situation is intentional, influential, and powerful.

Programs like REAL Reentry can serve as a springboard to turn pipe dreams into an attainable reality. While participation in REAL Reentry can feel like a glimmer of hope, participants must do the work to get the most out of the program. Participants are empowered to think about and set their own goals and are accountable for the choices they do or do not make during their time in the program.

John’s story is just one of many. Individual success stories illustrate the power of understanding, honesty, and second chances. And while the REAL Reentry program offers a one-on-one approach, it is rooted in a broader, community-wide commitment to resilience, social justice, and unlocking opportunities for people on probation or parole.

Its impact continues to expand and new participants are always welcome. If you or someone you know is experiencing employment challenges following involvement in the criminal justice system, contact the PA CareerLink® REAL Reentry team to learn more and/or enroll in the program.  REAL Reentry is grant-funded and there are no costs to participate.

Or, if your organization is not yet tied into the growing network of local employer partners linking REAL Reentry participants to meaningful employment, consider becoming a Fair Chance employer. Fair Chance Hiring is built on the premise that everyone, regardless of their background, should be fairly assessed for a role they are qualified for, including those with criminal histories or a history of substance use disorder. Reach out to the PA CareerLink® office closest to you — Hazleton, Pottsville, or Wilkes-Barre — for more information.


Featured image courtesy of PA CareerLink®