Ready4Work founder: Appreciation banquet is ‘unique’

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Each year since the inception of the Ready4Work re-entry program in 2016, the Bethel Empowerment Foundation has staged a community appreciation banquet.

A cross-section of the stakeholders in Ready4Work always showed up for the event that honors upstanding individuals in the community. In addition to the 12 honorees, judges and politicians were there along with felons who are clients of Ready4Work at the event last Thursday night at the Civic Center.

Kevin Gay, CEO and founder of Operation Hope who brought the Ready4Work concept to Rev. R.B. Holmes, hasn’t missed a banquet. The event, which is a fund-raiser for the program, is the only one of its kind put on by any of Operation Hope’s re-entry programs. They’re also in Tampa and Jacksonville.

“This is very unique,” Gay said. “Locally, we don’t do anything to this scale. I think it speaks volume to Rev. Holmes’ legacy of pulling people together. When you see the stakeholders here, it’s that great leadership that he has forged.

This year’s Community Appreciation Banquet attracted a large audience to the Civic Center last Thursday.

“They bring so much credibility to this work.”

Indeed. State representative Ramon Alexander, one of the honorees, joined with Senator Bill Montford, also an honoree, in pledging support for the program.

“This is great work any time you can break cycles,” Alexander said.

The other honorees were Joy Bowen, Carolyn Cummings, Cassandra D. Jenkins, Darryl Jones, Sheriff Walt McNeil, James Messer, Keith Parker, Donald Parks, City Commissioner Curtis Richardson, and reporter TaMaryn Waters.

Each of the honorees went to the stage with their recorded bio playing in the background. Each took turn acknowledging the honor.

Some like Messer, an attorney, called Ready4Work a necessary program for people returning from incarceration.

“It’s changing lives; one person at a time,” Messer said.

Ready4Work staff and clients were at the Civic Center to celebrate Bethel Empowerment Foundation’s Community Appreciation Banquet.
Photos by St. Clair Murraine

The Foundation presented a list of 46 alums of Ready4Work program, two of them James Ollins and Ronald Padgett, telling part of their stories. Both told how the program changed their lives and prevented them from returning to incarceration.

Padgett’s story of being charged with child neglect in the death of his six-month old child is well documented. Padgett, an Alabama native, who was in South Carolina at the time of the incident, said he’s had at least two other run-ins with the law before joining Ready4Work.

“I was going down a bad road, then they open up doorways that changed me forever,” Padgett said. “Hopefully other people will get that opportunity.”

Admittedly, Padgett’s opportunity to turnaround didn’t come until he found himself in trouble. He credits a higher power for leading him to Ready4Work.

As part of his turnaround, Padgett said he is enrolled in a culinary program that will lead to a certificate as a food handler.

“Actually, I was looking for something, but I didn’t know what I was looking for,” Padgett said. “I call it the Sea Biscuit syndrome because racing horses wear blinders.”