At the young age of 16, Bruce was handed two charges that landed him in prison for 29 years. Following his release in 2010, he spent the next three years trying to rebuild his life. One of the biggest challenges was finding work, as the label “ex-con” was given to him by not only society, but himself. After finally gaining employment in April 2013, unforeseen circumstances that altered his life forever caused him to terminate his position after only one week. Bruce was yet again at rock bottom.
That’s when he found Phoenix Employment Ministry, now known as StepUp Wilmington.
“During my first visit to StepUp, I didn’t make the cut. They only had 10 openings and I was the 11th person to show up. The second time I arrived, I was yet again number 11. But this time, they didn’t turn me away,” says Bruce. “The staff made space for me and by doing that and allowing me to enter the program, I was able to get grounded and start pushing myself.”
When he started the job program, Bruce’s biggest obstacle aside from his barrier to employment was knowing his self-worth. “The job program helped me learn self-confidence and taught me to hold my head up and say yes, I can do this because I am a valuable person of great worth.”
Following his graduation from Jobs Week, Bruce worked with his then employment counselor and current executive director of StepUp Wilmington, Will Rikard, to find employment. He was hired as a dishwasher and through funding sourced by StepUp, also went back to school for his CDL.
He was hired as a driver and enjoyed the position for over three years until he received a phone call that would change his career path and ignite his passion.
“After driving for three and a half years, I got a call from StepUp and they asked if I’d be interested in applying for an employment counselor position. I asked them to send me the job description but I didn’t plan on applying because I didn’t think I could meet the challenge.”
Fast forward to 2019.
Bruce has been an employment counselor for the past two years and uses his experience to inspire those who come through StepUp’s doors looking to transform their lives as he had not so long ago.
“I’ve gone through some difficult experiences and as a result I’m able to share what I’ve gone through with others to empower them to reach their goals and learn not to settle,” he says. “The best part of my job is when participants come in and ring the bell. It shows me that they trusted the process and trusted us to support them.”
When it comes to second chances, Bruce is a strong believer in giving those with a criminal background equal opportunities for success. “The proof is in the behavior. You can judge them by what they’ve done or you can judge them off of what they’ve done to change and improve their lives.”
Bruce’s journey with StepUp Wilmington began as a chance to start over and turned into much more.
“I was given the opportunity to be employed in a field that I’m passionate about and it gives me a lot of joy to get up in the morning and come to work. You can’t ask for much more than being happy and loving the work that you’re doing.”
Are you ready for a change? Give us a call at (910) 343-8469 to learn about our employment training and placement services.