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While addiction can put a person off his or her life track, one nonprofit believes it shouldn’t prevent anyone from getting a second chance in life.
The Boca Raton-based Second Chance Initiative creates jobs for women in recovery who are transitioning back into the workforce from issues including addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, past abuse or homelessness.
The nonprofit social enterprise sells mugs handmade by women who need a second chance in life. Every purchase helps to create jobs for women in recovery so they can work toward their own self-sufficiency in life.
The organization focuses on women because of founder Keely Copeland’s personal experience with her own recovery process. She said she realized that while addiction affects both genders, there is an aspect of recovery in which it’s important for women to support each other in safe spaces.
Copeland recently moved to Asia with her husband. She is still involved with the business and serves on the board.
“By creating Second Chance, I was solving a problem that I had encountered myself,” Copeland said. “I had reached my rock bottom with alcoholism and finally got sober in 2010.”
Copeland’s story of depression and alcoholism is relatable for many people.
“There’s a lot of depression in my family,” she said. “Depression plagued my father his whole life. He passed away last year and never had the chance to actually resolve what was causing his condition.
“My own addiction was driven by depression,” Copeland said. “That was what needed to be resolved so that I could get sober. I drank the way I did because I was miserable. I needed to get some skills to be able to learn how to be happy, or at least content, in life.”
Copeland’s addiction problem piqued when she was in college. She was 22 and a non-functional alcoholic. Her life as it was came to a crashing halt.
“I was unable to hold a job,” she said. “I reached the point where I was unable to even show for test days anymore. One day, I woke up from a blackout in a jail cell and found out that I had been driving my car. Fortunately, I did not harm anyone, but it’s terrifying to wake up and know that you’re a daily blackout drinker.”
After the crash, Copeland was charged with DUI, and both she and her family decided that it was time for her to go to inpatient treatment. That was a big deal because rehab was expensive and there was no guarantee insurance would cover it.
“I had a lot invested in my recovery,” she said. “When I finally got out, I had a terrible time finding a job because I had a criminal background at that point. And because of the DUI, there was a gap in my resume that I couldn’t disclose. Once you leave recovery, no one’s really figured out the job portion of the solution. There’s not a lot of guidance beyond that.”
After her DUI, Copeland had a tough time finding a job. Finally, a woman she connected with through a temp agency offered her an opportunity at a hotel.
“The job really helped me to get back on my feet,” Copeland said. “And it helped me launch my marketing career. I helped the woman at the hotel with their website and social media.”
Copeland worked there for a while, then she switched to the drug and alcohol recovery industry and worked as a recovery coach in South Florida. While she said she learned a lot through the coaching work, she missed being involved in the business side of things.
“I decided to start an Instagram account and a website on my own, selling coffee mugs with mental health
friendly messages on them,” she said. “The website focused on mental health. I created a video about it that ended up getting some traction, and things started to take off.
“The mugs themselves started intentionally because of the positive associations I had with them,” she said. “During the years where I was addicted or where I was depressed, this mug was a reliable source of comfort and joy for me. The idea was to have a positive message on a mug for the start of your day.”
Copeland’s husband helped her to connect the dots by creating the idea that the business could be a job-creation vehicle. Once the business model was created, Copeland decided to pursue potential supporters and collaborators for the idea.
Chris Malfitano, who is now the president of the board of directors for Second Chance, was teaching at Lynn at the time. Copeland connected with him through Hildebrand and he immediately jumped onboard with the initiative.
“Chris was the one who suggested going the nonprofit route,” Copeland said. “He helped with the initial fundraising and registering as a charity. Finding Chris as a mentor provided my idea with the know-how because I tend toward being an entrepreneur and dreamer. Without Chris, Second Chance would not have happened.”
The day-to-day operation of Second Chance Initiative is in the hands of Executive Director Lisa Roeberg with assistance from Malfitano. Before coming to Second Chance, Roeberg had worked in both retail and nonprofit management.
“The Second Chance Initiative’s mission is to provide jobs for women in recovery, as well as jobs that are very different from a traditional environment,” Roeberg said. “We want to help our employees to flourish. We have a phrase that states, ‘We don’t hire women to make mugs. We make mugs to hire women.’”
According to Roeberg, recovery is defined broadly: “It could be addiction, trauma, abuse, incarceration or anything that really changed the trajectory of a woman’s life and created an obstacle for employment.”
She said women in early recovery are often fragile, and it takes time and focus. Balancing that with a traditional schedule and work environment is not always conducive to maintaining recovery. She said the main purpose for limiting their work to women is that there is comfort for them when they’re around other women, especially when they have experienced trauma.
“We provide a supportive environment of non-judgment and support from their peers,” she said. “Our work program, which we have named ‘Wellness Works,’ incorporates a lot of things to help women focus on their recovery while getting their sea legs back in the work environment.”
Second Chance provides flexibility in scheduling and checks in with the women on a regular basis to see how they’re doing with their recovery and in general.
“More importantly, we have a recipe for success that we’ve designed for the women to start slowly and then to incrementally add more responsibilities,” she said. “Women often start off very part-time and work up to more advanced roles within our organization.”
According to Roeberg, women face unique obstacles to employment in the marketplace, especially in South Florida. She said there are close to 500 treatment centers in the region, so there are a lot of people in early recovery and in need of work when they leave those treatment centers.
“Each year that each woman has been here with us is a year of sobriety,” she said. “That’s a year of stability. It’s also a year of regular paychecks. For some, it’s the ability to reunite with children. It’s really about taking the next steps in their lives.”
Erika (last name withheld) has been an employee for over a year.
“I actually had a job where I worked for 30 years in New Jersey,” she said. “Because of my addiction, I was having difficulty finding a new one. I relocated down to Florida and I ended up going into sober living. My roommate introduced me to the job here.”
Erika said that the change has made a huge difference for her.
“The job is actually much more than a job,” she said. “It’s a lifestyle change. Our recovery comes first and foremost, and if we ever have any problems, it’s always nice to know that we can go and talk with them about anything.
“Now I’m on my own living in my own place for the first time and I feel like I’m just a kid all over again,” she said. “They say that when you finally end up stopping drinking, it’s almost like you go back to where you were when you first started drinking. I feel like I’m a 20-year-old again.”
The job at Second Chance has also given Erika a way to work up through the ranks and earn responsibility.
“I went from working on the line to now being team leader,” she said. “I’m overseeing things and working with the girls. I make sure everything’s going smoothly on the line.”
Pam (last name withheld) has also run into roadblocks to finding another job because of her track record.
“I started here last year, and I was very happy to get a job here, because I have a background in drug-related felonies and I couldn’t find an opportunity anywhere else,” she said. “I’ve been learning a lot and I’ve been able to build on my resume. I’m starting to do a lot with social media now and I can take that skill anywhere.”
She said she loves the working environment and the team.
“They’re all really supportive here,” she said. “We can talk about anything. I’ve learned a lot about working and having a work-life balance. That helps me a lot because I have a 6-year-old daughter, so I’m able to go be with her for a little while or go pick her up from school.”
The future of the Second Chance Initiative is full of hope, according to its founder.
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“With every single person who comes through our program, there’s the hope that they will go out and continue to have a ripple effect on others,” Copeland said. “I hope they’ll create second chances for more people and more people.”
Copeland said she hopes that Second Chance will plant seeds of awareness about issues like depression, addiction and other blocks to progress for women.
She said she wants to contribute to people being able to find their purpose, the way she was able to through her struggle and through creating the nonprofit business.
“Ultimately, we’re all searching for purpose and meaning,” she said. “We all want interesting and rewarding lives.”