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It’s a Second Chance for goods and people

At first glance, Second Chance looks like a second-hand furniture and building materials shop. And it is.

But the nonprofit is not only a deconstruction company and a store, it’s also an employment training program

The company recruits adults, mostly men, who are having trouble finding a job and often lack the skills to get a job. Many of the trainees that enroll in the program have criminal records, although Mark Foster, who founded Second Chance in 1998, said none of them has committed a violent crime.

“We often will say it’s a second chance for people and a second chance for materials,” Foster said.

What he means is that the company’s mission is two-fold: to preserve architecture and prevent waste by reclaiming unwanted materials and furniture and to add qualified individuals to the workforce with a hands-on job training program.

The company recently moved, thanks to the city’s plans for a slots parlor right next to its old building. Second Chance owns its new Ridgley Street facility, where it can hold both the training programs and the retail store in the same building.

“Second Chance is … very unique,” said Karen Sitnick, director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, who works with many job training programs and employers in Baltimore and nearby areas. “They’re an employer, and they’re also a training vendor.”

Another job training program, Living Classrooms, also provides hands-on job training, but targets at-risk youth and young adults. Jump Start, a program of the Job Opportunities Task Force, provides some hands-on training as well, but its focus is on construction rather than deconstruction.

Much of the material Second Chance reclaims comes from donated buildings that would have been demolished. Instead of destroying and disposing, the nonprofit deconstructs, takes what is useful and sells it.

“We universally want to save things from going to the landfill,” Foster said, whether that means preserving valuable antiques or collecting lumber for resale.

Foster said he founded Second Chance primarily because “The old stuff is very cool … I wanted to be a part of preserving that.”

However, for him, creating a for-profit company to do this wasn’t enough. After researching other deconstruction companies, Foster decided on a nonprofit model with an employment training element.

“I didn’t really realize how rewarding that was really going to be,” he said. “Changing lives, seeing people rise from basically oblivion to create a new life for themselves … making that a reality has changed my life as well as theirs.”

Candidates compiled by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development can interview with Second Chance for each training session, of which there are several each year, in no particular pattern.

“We’re really able to utilize the opportunities through Second Chance for many people who come through our re-entry program” for ex-offenders, Sitnick said.

For Antonio Maultsby, that aspect of the program was especially helpful.

“I was getting in trouble, tried looking for a job, went back to getting in trouble, and I actually got fed up with it,” said Maultsby, 35.

He had other jobs before Second Chance, but “I had never had a job where … my record wasn’t constantly the subject. … No one [is] holding it over my head.”

The organization chooses about 15 individuals to participate in a two-week “boot camp,” where they are evaluated while they begin to learn necessary skills. The Second Chance staff watches them to make sure they are dedicated to the program.

If they prove themselves, participants are invited to join the longer-term job training program. Typically, by this stage about 12 remain.

“When I first started, I thought it was going to be real grueling, tedious,” Maultsby said, but “after a while, you just get it, it’s like second nature.”

In the 16-week job training program, participants receive training in the skills necessary to work for Second Chance or a similar company. They get occupational skills training needed to work in deconstruction, but they also learn job readiness skills such as interviewing, leadership, work ethic and time management.

By creating a 16-week customized training program, the organization uses the maximum time and budget allowed for support from the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, Foster said.

When the 16 weeks end, the trainees still get support from the company and are guaranteed jobs with Second Chance.

Maultsby just graduated from the training program, and will soon begin additional classes in home inspection. He said he will stay employed at Second Chance as long as he can, but “I’m just going to take and utilize every opportunity I get.”

Graduates start out in deconstruction, and sometimes move up to positions as crew leaders and supervisors.

That’s the path Tayvon Glenn chose. A former Second Chance trainee, he leads newer trainees in the program.

“It feels good to teach someone … to see them in progress,” Glenn said.

Most of the trainees stay employed with Second Chance for about eight months to one year, though a few stay longer, Foster said.

“We’re not a lifetime employer; we need to make room,” he said. “We’re really helping you establish your employability.”

Second Chance then helps its trained employees to find work with other companies that need skilled workers similar to those in deconstruction. If trainees are interested in entering a particular industry, Second Chance will also help them get training in that area, even if it is not in the Second Chance curriculum.

“They have a family of folks that … embrace them,” Foster said. “I can’t overstate how important that is.”