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Parolees Get a Second Chance in Detroit, Chicago, New York

It probably comes as no surprise that many parolees return to society without much of a support network—and certainly without a job. But businesses and organizations around the country are aiming to change all that. In New York City, the J.C. Flowers Foundation’s Circles of Support program provides moral support and job-readiness training for parolees in Harlem. Sakthi Automotive Group USA Inc. in Detroit, MI, recently announced its intention to boost employee ranks by hiring ex-offenders as part of a $60 million expansion of its southern Detroit facility. And in Chicago, St. Leonard’s Ministry provides desperately needed services for parolees by participating in the Back on My Feet program.

The J.C. Flowers Foundation, the philanthropic arm of financial services giant J.C. Flowers & Co., supports a variety of parolee initiatives in Harlem. Working in partnership with local faith communities and other nonprofits, the Foundation believes in applying “locally devised solutions” that help a “last mile” population often overlooked by other organizations. The Foundation’s Re-Entry Faith and Family Circles of Support and Network in the Community programs help recently released parolees and their families with all sorts of issues, including welcoming parolees back to the community, accompanying them to appointments and job interviews, and providing a wide range of emotional support groups. These programs also offer coaching in areas like job readiness, public speaking, and life skills.

Further west in Detroit, Sakthi Automotive Group USA Inc. is doing its part to help parolees in its local community. Their $60 million expansion will include hiring parolees, according to CEO Lalit Verma, who says the company has already hired 25 convicted felons within a six-month period. The ultimate goal, according to Verma, is to employ 650 parolee employees in the next several years. These new workers will likely be employed as CNC operators, hi-lo drivers, and maintenance workers, earning between $11 and $14 an hour. Sakthi has found that these employees are extremely dedicated and hardworking, so hiring them is of great value for both employee and employer.

Chicago parolees receive support through St. Leonard’s Ministries, which helps formerly incarcerated men return to their home communities. St. Leonard’s residency program provides programs that help these individuals prepare for successful, independent living. St. Leonard’s is also a participant in the Back On My Feet program, which provides running teams and other kinds of emotional and physical support for parolees reentering society and working for a more positive future.

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How to Make Health-Based Philanthropy Work

Many of us have a desire to save the world in whatever way we can—that’s why philanthropy is so important and widespread. But what’s the most effective way to approach health initiatives? It’s all good and well to throw money at a problem, or even try to swoop in and save the day—but will that cause real, lasting change? Organizations like the Gates Foundation (founded by Bill and Melinda Gates) and the J.C. Flowers Foundation (founded by private equity giant J.C. Flowers & Co.) follow what studies say is the best way to approach community activism: they support change as run by the community itself, rather than just coming in as an outside influence.

“Numerous agencies of the federal government of the US have concluded that community engagement is a critical component of any public health strategy,” write Barbara J. Zappia and Deborah L. Puntenney in their study on grassroots activism and community health initiatives. That’s why agencies like the US Department of Health and Human Services the National Institutes for Health, and the Centers for Disease Control have chosen to focus a large part of their energies on community engagement.

Effective activism that engages the community can be positively supported by business, despite the sometimes negative connotation of combining philanthropy with “profit-making.”

The J.C. Flowers Foundation is one example of this. Its extremely effective work to eradicate malaria in “last mile” African communities has inspired philanthropists both locally and internationally. The Foundation believes in focusing on the local community when it comes to supporting its initiatives. According to their website, they “believe that the people who live in the communities have the best knowledge about how to solve their own problems.” The J.C. Flowers Foundation brings its organizational skills, as well as financial and technical know-how, to the table, but count on local communities to spearhead initiatives.

The Gates Foundation also has a focus on malaria eradication from the inside out. To date they’ve invested $2 billion in grants to fight the disease, and they are committed to working with a broad range of partners, including local communities, to treat and prevent future outbreaks. Because they are a large organization, they’re able to invest financially in ways local communities can’t always manage; however, they also acknowledge the importance of working with the people on the ground who make these areas home.

Whether abroad or at home, philanthropy focused on health initiatives can make great strides if the groups working on it focus on partnering with and strengthening local communities.

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Further Malaria Studies Needed Before Approval

Ongoing global efforts to tackle the deadly malaria disease have taken a positive turn as a vaccine is one step closer to reality.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) and the Malaria Policy Advisory Committee (MPAC) announced that the RTS,S malaria vaccine (also known as Mosquirix) will be further tested through a series of experimental studies before it can be recommended for general use.

Announced back in July, the vaccine was finally been given the green light by a regulatory agency (the European Medicines Agency) with a “positive scientific opinion.” The agency’s approval came after considering the drug’s quality, safety, and effectiveness.

Developed by a team managed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Mosquirix is intended for use by babies and toddlers, targeting the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, known to be the leading cause of malaria deaths. The vaccine triggers the body’s immune system to protect against the parasite when it first enters its human host’s bloodstream, in addition to when the parasite infects the liver. It’s intended to prevent the parasite from contaminating, growing, and multiplying in the liver, where it can cause malaria by re-entering the bloodstream and infecting red blood cells.

Malaria kills approximately 1,300 children every day in sub-Saharan Africa, and there are currently no approved vaccines. There are many charitable groups that support anti-malaria initiatives, such as the JC Flowers Foundation. Founded by J. Christopher Flowers of the financial services company J.C. Flowers & Co., the organization has worked with malaria prevention initiatives since launching NetsforLife in 2004.

With over 15,000 infants and children involved across seven African countries, the vaccine trial delivered a qualified success. For long-term protection, the vaccine must be dispensed four times – a quick succession of three doses followed by a booster 18 months later. It was found that the vaccine offered significant long-term protection in children aged 5-17 months, but not in younger infants (6-12 weeks).

“The question about how the malaria vaccine may best be delivered still needs to be answered,” noted Professor Jon S. Abramson, chair of SAGE.

As next steps, the WHO’s strategic advisory group of experts recommends that Mosquirix be tested in three to five large scale pilot projects involving up to a million children to see if the unusual four-dose vaccination schedule can be included into existing routines.

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The Fight Against Malaria in Africa

Malaria continues to be a huge problem in Africa, as well as other places across the world where access to medical help and information are not always readily available. Though some progress has been made in treating and cutting down the number of cases, malaria has yet to be eradicated.

However, many organizations around the world are fighting hard to provide African communities with the information and support they need.

The Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Elimination Initiative

The Isdell:Flowers Initiative is the brainchild of the J.C. Flowers Foundation, the philanthropic arm of financial services giant J.C. Flowers & Co. The Initiative focuses on an area called the “last mile,” the cross-border region that includes Namibia, Angola, Zambia, and Zimbabwe where the population is mobile and difficult to reach. Because people living in this area travel a lot, they often spread malaria without meaning to, and they don’t have the education or resources to take precautionary steps.

That’s where the Isdell:Flowers Initiative comes in. Their work focuses on things like net distribution (to prevent malaria-infected mosquito bites), training villagers to treat and prevent the disease, and providing the equipment for rapid testing. The Initiative also performs extensive research and data analysis.

The Global Health Group

Launched in 2007, the Global Health Group’s Malaria Elimination Initiative pursues “achievable and evidence-based elimination goals.” By partnering with researchers, implementers, and advocates, Group Health conducts research and develops new tools to help eliminate malaria. To date they’ve published important reports and peer-reviewed papers; organized relief efforts in both Asia and Africa; partnered to provide sustainable, domestic financing and resource mobilization; and greatly influenced policy-makers with organizations like the Malaria Elimination Group, an international scientific community that serves as an advisory board to 35 countries fighting malaria.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The Gates Foundation has its fingers a lot of philanthropic pies, and the fight against malaria is no exception. Noting that malaria occurs in 100 countries across the world and exists as both a social and economic burden, the Gates Foundation oversees programs that help address malaria as a treatable and preventable disease. Their multi-year malaria strategy, Accelerate to Zero, was adopted in 2013 and continues to coordinate with partners in taking steps to eradicate malaria. Because the Foundation is well funded and uniquely positioned across the world, they are able to support initiatives and take risks in a way other, smaller organizations can’t.

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The Interfaith Center of New York

The Interfaith Center focuses on helping people from a wide variety of religious and spiritual backgrounds to exist peacefully in New York. In addition to educational and interfaith offerings, the ICNY also works to support parolees reentering society, a project they do in partnership with the Harlem Community Justice Center and the J.C. Flowers Foundation.

Back in 2010, the J.C. Flowers Foundation (a charitable organization created by J. Christopher Flowers of J.C. Flowers & Co.) was asked to help fund the ICNY’s pilot program to assist Harlem parolees returning to society after incarceration. Most of these individuals are young men of color who are released into an environment full of poverty, unemployment, and unstable housing. Because of this, 30% end up back in prison within a year of release, and 42% go back within three years.

In fact, Manhattan as a whole has the highest number of parolees of any county in the US—more than 2,200 a year. One seven-block area in Harlem is actually called a “re-entry corridor,” where one in twenty men has been incarcerated.

The ICNY found Harlem to be a great place to initiate the program because not only did it face the need, it had a strong grassroots presence of community members wanting to be involved. Those community members provide a wide variety of supportive services for parolees wanting to reintegrate into society:

  • Accompanying parolees home from prison and welcoming them back into their communities
  • Accompanying parolees to appointments (job interviews, etc.)
  • Creating child-friendly play spaces that parolees can enjoy with their children, including offering tutoring and childcare when parents have court dates
  • Helping parolees become job-ready with resumes, mock interviews, and more
  • Running support groups
  • Connecting parolees and their families with community services through resource fairs and referrals

Through partnerships and a local focus, the ICNY is working hard to promote tolerance and acceptance in New York City.

Learn more about the ICNY here.