Denisha Rapier has more than eight years of experience advocating for the formerly incarcerated. As a previously incarcerated person at 19, Denisha knows firsthand the barriers to re-entry. Denisha is currently the Program Manager for the Council for Airport Opportunity’s Office of Second Chance Employment (OSCE). In Denisha’s current role, she is responsible for developing employer partnerships, promoting the OSCE services, and connecting her participants to meaningful employment. Denisha is passionate about ensuring her clients have the power, knowledge, and resources to map their new future.
1 Can you tell us about yourself and your role at the Office of Second Chance Employment?
Denisha Rapier: I currently manage the Council for Airport Opportunity’s Office of Second Chance Employment (OSCE) program. In this role, I am responsible for educating and connecting individuals touched by the criminal justice system to employment opportunities at JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports. I began my career as an intern with a local non-profit, and this opportunity gave me exposure to gain new skills in the re-entry field. My most recent job before OSCE was as the Queens Parole re-entry coordinator. My experience as someone previously incarcerated provides me with firsthand knowledge of the challenges these individuals face once they are ready to return to the workforce. I am happy I can use my experience to help our local community members improve their lives.
2 What is the Second Chance Program, and how does the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ) support that effort?
Denisha Rapier: The PANYNJ has been a significant driver in getting this program off the ground. The program’s genesis came from the JFK Redevelopment Advisory Council’s concerns about the high incarceration rates for the community surrounding JFK Airport and how these people can get back into the workforce. The PANYNJ responded to this concern by partnering with the Council for Airport Opportunity (CAO) to fund a division of CAO to support the formerly incarcerated. The PANYNJ then expanded the program to include LaGuardia and Newark airports. The PANYNJ also helps to promote the program to airport businesses.
3 How does the Second Chance program work for people who have been incarcerated and returning to the community?
Denisha Rapier: The Office of Second Chance Employment has developed formal partnerships with local non-profits that specialize in supporting individuals touched by the criminal justice system. These partners offer various services designed to prepare the formerly incarcerated to return to the community. The OSCE has created an ecosystem that allows our partners to leverage one another’s resources to provide robust support to those in need. Once we receive a job opportunity, we will promote the job opportunity to our non-profit partners.
The partners will then refer candidates to OSCE to screen and refer to airport employment. When meeting with the candidates, we sometimes find that they are not job ready and have barriers to overcome. We will then refer those individuals to one of our partners to help them with the specific challenge. Once the challenge has been addressed, our office can provide the candidate with a job referral. This system allows us to offer wraparound services to all our job seekers.
4 What types of jobs are available to candidates that come through this program?
Denisha Rapier: Once connected to the program, candidates will be informed of opportunities as they become available. We maintain a variety of jobs that require different skill sets. Most of our jobs are landside and do not require a SIDA badge. We have positions in customer service, construction, technicians, food service, and more. The candidates we were able to place are selected based on their skills and ability to do the job the employer requires.
5 What can employers expect when they list available jobs with the program?
Denisha Rapier: An employer can expect to have a trusted partner. We will act as an extension of your human resources team to prepare and screen candidates for your open positions. Our employer partners will only succeed if they have the best staff. Therefore, we will work hard to ensure that all referrals to our employer partners have all the required hard and soft skills they need. We already have several employer partnerships that depend on the OSCE to provide qualified staff. We would love to expand these partnerships as we have a large pool of skilled and motivated individuals looking for meaningful employment.