Released from Angola after serving 28 and a half years on a false conviction, Calvin Duncan faced a new obstacle: securing employment. Like many persons released from incarceration, Duncan found few traditional employers willing to hire a former inmate. Duncan teamed up with UCLA School of Law graduate Kelly Orians to form Rising Foundations and address this major issue by helping previously incarcerated individuals secure financial stability. To learn more, I spoke with current executive director Kelly Orians, program coordinator Derrick Perique and small business owner Henry Byous. (Duncan is still involved as a board member.)
The Rising Foundations organization provides resources to help formerly incarcerated persons achieve gainful employment, financial stability and affordable housing access. To bypass the issues with traditional employers, Rising Foundations encourages former inmates to start their own businesses. The organization’s unique small business incubator encourages clients to rely on existing skills (or develop new ones) and become an income-generating entrepreneur. By addressing the barriers to employment that contribute to the cycle of incarceration, the Rising Foundations organization is helping their clients reenter the workforce in a dynamic, powerful way.
At this time Rising Foundations has helped launch electrical, cleaning, mobile car detailing, optical, landscaping and auto mechanic businesses, among others. For instance, Derrik Perique learned how to be an optician while at Angola and opened Custom Optical, where he can make manufactured prescription lenses for customers. Likewise, Henry Byous launched a cleaning company he started with his girlfriend (Shawanna's Helping Hands) and a maintenance company he started with two other members of the incubator (All Pro Services and Maintenance), where he and another owner specialize in electrical work. In addition, the many small business owners from Rising Foundations sometimes work together to address a problem or find jobs for those who need extra money each month. In this way, Rising Foundations acts as both a business incubator and a networking service to ensure continued success for its clients.
There are many ways to help Rising Foundations support its mission. First, successful business owners from the New Orleans area are welcome to share their knowledge and advice for breaking into various local fields. Next, the organization accepts donations of old cars or blighted properties to refurbish. Lastly, monetary donations are helpful to the organization. In fact, Rising Foundations has a financial services division with Pay It Forward loans – clients can secure a startup loan of $1,000 and then pay it back to the fund for the next small business owner. With this unique lending method, every dollar helps a person in need, and then that person returns cash to the fund for the next person. It forms a cycle of positivity.