Updated: Jul 11
At the re-launch event of LA County’s Fair Chance Hiring Initiative, we unveiled an art installation by photographer Brandon Tauszik with portraits of several Los Angeles system-impacted individuals.
“They gave me a second chance, and they believed in me. They didn't look at me for where I was. They looked at me for where I am.”
- Vanessa Ebenezer
Every year, more than 60,000 individuals return from incarceration in LA County, looking to start anew. This is the story of Vanessa Ebenezer, a Ground Maintenance Supervisor with Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation who’s been home for 23 years.
Vanessa Ebenezer’s leadership skills, paired with her proficiency in machinery and fieldwork, have helped her thrive in her career. She loves a challenge, and now in her role as a supervisor, she stays motivated to continue learning and developing her managerial skills. Before she retires, Vanessa has her sights set on becoming a regional grounds maintenance supervisor or superintendent.
During her time in prison, Vanessa worked on fire crews, building trails and learning how to use a chainsaw. She also spent much of her time working on groundskeeping crews and learning how to use landscaping machinery. When she got out of prison in 1999, she was told by many employers that she was overqualified for roles because of her extensive experience. That all changed when a friend encouraged her to apply for a position with the parks service, where she has now been employed for almost 20 years. “I think [employers] should know that just because a person has been incarcerated, that doesn't mean they can't change,” she says. “A lot of companies out there don't hire felons, and me personally, I feel bad for them because they won't give us a chance. I think they should give people chances instead of looking at them for what they did.”
“You will find that most times, the ones that are serious, that they have this determination, they're willing to go above and beyond. Especially the ones who are given a second chance and serious about making something new for their lives.”
- Sheldon Solin, Recreations Supervisor, LA County Department of Parks and Recreation, and Vanessa Ebenezer’s Supervisor
With years of experience working with system-impacted individuals in both the LA County Parks Department and a juvenile detention facility, Sheldon Solin highlights the drive and experience these employees bring to a workplace. “More often than not, people that have been previously incarcerated and given a second chance, they have this drive to succeed… and are willing to do things that will allow them to grow,” he says. “They don't take things for granted, and it makes the supervision process a lot easier when you have staff like that.” Sheldon builds an environment of safe communication with his employees. He finds their strengths and, most importantly, helps them develop their skills and grow.
Sheldon remembers interviewing Vanessa Ebenezer for her position. From her ground maintenance work and trail-building skills, to her firefighting experience and leadership abilities, she brought additional resources that went above and beyond the basic job qualifications. She has an additional drive that allows her to go above and beyond in her role and teach her staff skills to use on the job. “Her staff love her,” he says. “That's one of the things we saw in her, that she had that way of working with people.”
Don't miss out on hiring incredible “ready to work” fair-chance employees like Vanessa–who are waiting to contribute to your company's success. Join the LA County Fair Chance Hiring Initiative and become a pledged LA County Fair Chance Hiring employer today!
Courtesy of TaskForce - Photo by Brandon Tauszik
*Portraits in this post were taken by Brandon Tauszik, with stories compiled by Alisha Jucevik.
Brian Stewart, MPP, MDR
Manager, Stakeholder Engagement