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Helping rebuild lives

Sara McManamy-Johnson sjohnson@lebanondemocrat.com • Jan 16, 2014 at 6:00 PM

Money may not buy happiness, but it’s near impossible to build a life without at least some of it.

Which makes it difficult for people just getting out of jail and trying to rebuild a life on the outside. Many employers now automatically reject applicants with felony or even misdemeanor convictions.

But without a job, the likelihood of them returning to jail is high.

Lebanon’s Next Step Resource Center helps people in challenging situations rebuild their lives so they can ultimately be self-sufficient.

The newly opened facility on Leeville Pike offers free internet access, local job listings, job-skills training and even a ride to work.

“Jobs are really, really important,” said Julie Hadlock founder of the Next Step Resource Center. “It’s hard when you’ve come out of that jail and you’ve lost everything; you’ve lost your home, your car – everything – your clothes, all your belongings.”

She knows. She’s been there.

Hadlock, a longtime business owner who at times had successful businesses in Brentwood, Nashville and Lebanon, lost it all – and her freedom – to a mistake.

“I experienced a business mistake that’s no one’s fault but my own,” said Hadlock. “[I] got a large bad check from someone and then had bad checks of course because of that.”

She ended up in Wilson County Jail, where she remained for 11 months for her case to be heard.

“The [district attorney] said I didn’t do anything intentionally when they finally heard my case, and I got to pay to get out, but now I’m a felon,” said Hadlock. “All of a sudden now I found that I couldn’t go back to work for…any large corporation because of the felony.”

And she saw many of the women she met in jail in the same Catch-22 – they needed jobs to find gainful employment, live and pay their restitution to stay out of jail, but they couldn’t get jobs because they had been in jail.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Hadlock.

After her release, Hadlock maintained contact with many of the women she’d met. She helped them identify their unique talents and turn those talents into business opportunities, ranging from unique birdhouses to specialty tennis shoes.

“I showed Sheriff [Robert] Bryan some of these things and said, ‘You don’t realize we have a lot of talent in Wilson County, and now these people are working and they won’t be back in your jail,’” said Hadlock.

The Next Step Resource Center and The Salvation Army, which shares office space in the center, also provide basic living essentials for clients until they can save up enough money to provide for themselves.

Whether the clients need shelter, food, clothing, transportation, furniture or even appliances, The Next Step Resource Center and Salvation Army will help at no charge.

Marie Wulfing of the Salvation Army said the collaboration between The Salvation Army and the Next Step Resource Center fills a need that’s been evident in Wilson County.

“It’s worked out great for The Salvation Army because we’ve been housing people for years in hotels, but there’s never been that next step,” said Wulfing. “In other cities we can have shelters, and so each morning they’re meeting with a councilor and talking about jobs – we haven’t had that here, so this kind of works hand in hand. Once you’re lodging someone, you want them to be actively looking for work.”

Goodwill Career Solutions also helps in the effort, offering clients various job skills training and services.

“It’s kind of like a one-stop shop here,” said Hadlock. “[But] Everything’s 100 percent free.”

The Next Step Resource Center is located at 216-B Leeville Pike, next to Journey Church, and is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

For more information or for a schedule of classes, call 615-547-9999.

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