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Michelle Cirocco is the Executive Director of Televerde Foundation and Chief Social Responsibility Officer of Televerde headquartered in Phoenix, AZ. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and learn more at televerdefoundation.org.
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
I’m the Chief Social Responsibility Officer of Televerde and the Executive Director of the Televerde Foundation, and my passion is empowering incarcerated women. I have a personal connection to this community and I know the devastating impact of having people and businesses want to define you by your worst mistake. From my perspective, the more we can develop these women, the greater their ability to leave their criminal record where it belongs: in the past. The mission of the foundation is to help currently and formerly incarcerated women successfully join the global workforce and to do this we will provide training, education, and personal and professional development programs that will enable the women to develop the skills necessary for meaningful and rewarding careers and successful community reintegration.
The Televerde Foundation utilizes proven best practice models and certified, accredited curricula to ensure all program participants receive relevant, useful, and reputable training and education. In addition, we partner and collaborate with government agencies, service providers, non-profits, community partners, faith-based organizations, higher-ed institutions, and for-profit businesses in order to provide a complete suite of services necessary for successful reentry and career development.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
With a deep desire for upward mobility and what I would call “a misguided sense of entrepreneurialism,” I ended up down a path making some decisions that ultimately led me to prison. And when I got there, my counselor said to me, “I’m sure you didn’t grow up expecting to go to prison, but here you are. What are you going to do about it?” I decided that I was going to use it as an opportunity to change the trajectory of my life, and I did. This is when I started my career with Televerde in an entry-level sales position and when I was released in 2002, I was hired at their corporate office and I began my climb up the corporate ladder. I started in sales, then I ran sales for a while, I help restructured the company and created our client success department and ran that for seven years, and then was promoted to chief marketing officer in 2017. I’m now Televerde’s chief social responsibility officer and was just recently appointed executive director of the Televerde Foundation.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY DOES THE WORLD NEED YOU?
I’ve seen first-hand the outcomes we can produce when we match Televerde’s best-of-breed model with corporations, governments, and other entities that want to change the norm and couple that with the personal and professional development services of the Televerde Foundation. Most importantly, I’ve seen how people’s lives have been changed because this company invested in them and gave them a second chance. I’m proof of it. When you witness this for yourself, and when you’re the beneficiary of it, it becomes incredibly important to do all you can to help change the trajectory of even more lives.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Televerde and the Televerde Foundation work hand-in-hand. Since Televerde’s inception, 3,000 women have graduated from the Televerde program. The three-year reconviction (recidivism) rate for our graduates is 5.4%. (This is 91% lower than the national three-year recidivism rate.) In 2020, Arizona State University’s Seidman Research Institute unveiled the economic, social, and fiscal impact of our prison workforce development program on individuals, families, and the state of Arizona. The results reveal that graduates of Televerde’s program go on to attain employment, earnings, and education at higher rates and re-offend at significantly lower rates than other formerly incarcerated females in the United States. Graduates are two times more likely to be in gainful employment post-release and 94% of graduates are in paid employment five years after incarceration compared to 49% of other formerly incarcerated women. Graduates find earn almost four times the national average for formerly incarcerated females. Graduates return to society with an average of $10,000 in savings to help with reentry costs (clothing, secure housing, and pay for transportation post-release). Despite similar levels of at the time of incarceration, graduates attain higher levels of education with 84% having some college and 30% earning advanced degrees. Dependent children are 11 times more likely to graduate high school than dependent children of other incarcerated mothers and adult children are 11 times less likely to be incarcerated compared to the adult children of other incarcerated mothers.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
First and foremost, I am inspired by Televerde’s co-founder and former CEO Jim Hooker. Jim wholeheartedly believed “the human spirit under the right conditions and given the right opportunity could rise up and achieve extraordinary things.” Because of his unwavering commitment to the growth of Televerde and continued investments in society’s most vulnerable, I’ve had the privilege of seeing more than 3,000 women transform their lives and rejoin society to become successful leaders, caregivers, and business professionals. As a beneficiary of Jim’s vision, I am honored and inspired by the opportunity to continue his work.
I am also inspired every day by women who are pursuing and achieving their dreams. Every day, I have the opportunity to witness women successfully transition back into the community. They reunite with their families and their children, start professional careers, graduate from college, buy houses, and achieve things they once believed impossible. It simply a gift to be able to witness their dreams come true.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM, FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
My goal is to help rapidly grow our company and foundation so we expand what we know is a proven methodology to different geographies and other groups who need support and opportunity. Our BHAG is to provide 10,000 life-changing opportunities over the next decade.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
We’ve come a long way in changing the societal stigmas associated with the formerly incarcerated, but there’s still much work to be done. The narrative that’s widely accepted today is that U.S. prisons are reserved for the worst that society has to offer and that those who are incarcerated are unsalvageable. This is a myth. About one-third of Americans today have a criminal record so the reality is they have to be salvageable. Finding empathy and providing a path forward for individuals with a criminal record will not only help them personally, but strengthen families, communities, businesses and economies.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
We have two open GoFundMe campaigns available right now. One is to help the families of those incarcerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the world, the families of individuals who are incarcerated have been hit hard. We realize this is an unlikely group for which to ask for support. The incarcerated community is one of the most stigmatized populations in the world, and wrongly so. These are human beings who deserve a chance to become more than their worst mistake. Having an incarcerated family member affects multiple domains of life, including economic hardship, family dynamics, and emotional well-being. The entire family suffers. The Televerde Families Fund is working to quickly put cash, non-perishable food items, toiletries, cleaning and sanitizing products, and more into the hands of these families so that they have the support they need to keep themselves and their children fed during this crisis and find some relief.
The second campaign benefits the James Hooker Endowment for Future Scholars Program (previously the Televerde Endowment for New Scholars, or TENS), a scholarship program created in 2007 by Televerde visionary and former CEO James Hooker. The purpose is to encourage and assist women who worked for Televerde while incarcerated to advance their lives through higher education. James believed education was the greatest equalizer and that “the human spirit under the right conditions and given the right opportunity could rise up and achieve extraordinary things.” We agree.
Beyond monetary donations, if you or your organization feel as if you can support the Televerde Foundation through education, resources or volunteerism, please reach out to me.
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