FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions – NLEN

  • What is the North Lawndale Employment Network? +

    The North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charitable organization. Since 2001, NLEN’s mission has been to improve the earnings potential of residents of the North Lawndale community through innovative employment initiatives that lead to economic advancement and an improved quality of life.
  • Who do you serve? +

    Each year we serve 2,000 people who have significant barriers to employment. Many have criminal backgrounds and little to no work experience. Nearly 90% earn less than $10,000 per year and more than half have children. Most live on Chicago’s West Side (North Lawndale, Garfield Park, Austin and Humboldt Park) and 97% are African-American.
  • Where are you located? +

    The North Lawndale community is located on the West Side of Chicago, about a 10 minute drive from the loop. The median income in North Lawndale is $22,982 and the formal unemployment rate is 23.4%. Yet, the “true” unemployment rate, including individuals disconnected from the labor force, is estimated to be more than 40%.
  • What is U-Turn Permitted? +

    U-Turn Permitted is NLEN’s flagship job readiness program that provides re-entry, re-integration and employment services to returning citizens who are motivated to find and succeed in employment. In this four-week class, seasoned professionals equip participants with the evidence-based skills, strategies, and techniques necessary to succeed in work and life after incarceration.
  • What is the Financial Opportunity Center? +

    The Financial Opportunity Center (formerly Center for Working Families or CWF) provides bundled services to help individuals and families reach their economic goals, including: • Financial coaching, personalized credit-building and budgeting programming • Workforce coaching, resume writing, interviewing and job search tips • The Resource Center’s job search and acquisition tools including computers, copy machines and community voicemail.
  • Why is incarceration an important social issue? +

    The United States incarcerates more citizens than any other country in the world. 2.3 million Americans (1% of the adult population) are incarcerated. An additional 5 million are on probation or parole . But incarceration does not affect all Americans equally. While 1 in 100 Americans are behind bars on any given day, for African-American men the figure is 1 in 15. Incarceration is also costly - in terms of both taxpayer dollars and human dignity. In 2010, the State of Illinois spent $1.7 billion to incarcerate more than 45,000 citizens. While this money could be spent improving schools or training workers to compete in the global economy, it is instead spent on a system which disconnects citizens from their families, jobs and communities without any clear impact on crime rates or public safety. Read More
  • How has incarceration affected North Lawndale? +

    The incarceration crisis has had a significant impact on the economy and quality of life of North Lawndale. In 2002, NLEN commissioned a study, funded by the Woods Fund of Chicago, to document the tremendous numbers of North Lawndale residents involved in the criminal justice system. The study showed that in 2001, 22,137 North Lawndale residents – 57% of the adult population – were involved in the criminal justice system. Thousands of West Side residents continue to be sentenced to prison each year. Instead of being able to work, pay taxes and support their families, each instead costs taxpayers $38,268 annually in incarceration costs. Many of these individuals are incarcerated for non-violent offenses or technical parole violations, such as missing a court hearing. Read More
  • How do incarceration and re-entry relate to employment training? +

    Though nearly 90% of people who are incarcerated will return to their communities at some point, 52% of those released will return to prison within three years. Stable employment is one key factor in making an individual less likely to return to prison. Stable employment allows returning citizens to provide for themselves without resorting to crime, minimizes their reliance on public assistance, and allows them to contribute economic and social value to their communities as they reconnect with their families, pay taxes, and participate in the workforce.
  • How is NLEN addressing incarceration? +

    NLEN stops the generational cycle of unemployment, crime and incarceration through our unique mix of job-readiness training, financial coaching and entrepreneurship. Our job training equips clients with the skills, values and attitudes necessary to succeed in the modern workforce. Our financial counseling helps participants stabilize their assets, reduce debt, and plan for their family’s long-term stability. Lastly, our social enterprise, Sweet Beginnings, acts as a catalyst for North Lawndale’s economic development by creating sweet jobs right here in the community and training a new generation of entrepreneurs.
  • What awards has NLEN received? +

    The North Lawndale Employment Network received the inaugural award for Creative and Effective Institutions in 2006 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a NBC Jefferson Award in 2009, a Green Award from Chicago Magazine in 2009, the Neighborhood Housing Services Neighborhood Hero Award in 2010, Special Recognition Award of the 2012 Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards, the 2014 MetLife Community-Police Partnership Award, the 2014 Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award, the 2015 Impact 100 Chicago Impact Award, the 2015 Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Award.
  • What media recognition has NLEN received? +

    NLEN has been featured on The American Story with Bob Dotson on NBC’s The Today Show, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, in the New York Times, INC Magazine, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Chicago Tribune, on ABC7 News, Chicago Tonight, Majora Carter’s Promised Land radio show carried by NPR and Public Radio International, in Grist Online Magazine and many other local media sources. NLEN and Sweet Beginnings have been approached by organizations in more than 20 cities, states and countries interested in replicating NLEN’s innovative workforce development and transitional jobs model. Organizations have been located in as diverse place as Brazil, Los Angeles, China, Toronto, Australia, Milwaukee, England, Baltimore and more.
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Frequently Asked Questions – Sweet Beginnings

  • What is Sweet Beginnings, LLC? +

    Sweet Beginnings is a social enterprise and wholly-owned subsidiary of the North Lawndale Employment Network. Sweet Beginnings was created to generate jobs for returning citizens upon their release from prison, facilitate their return to the community, and contribute to NLEN as an earned-income strategy. The Sweet Beginnings social enterprise has maintained a recidivism rate below 10%, compared to the state average of 52%, and has hired more than 400 transitional employees to date.
  • What types of products does Sweet Beginnings produce? +

    Sweet Beginnings produces raw, urban honey and honey-infused natural skin care products (including lotion, body cream, shower gels, lip balms and gift sets) under the beeloveTM brand. Employees of Sweet Beginnings learn everything from beekeeping to manufacturing and sales. Our workers are get experiential training, a 90-day work history, and a professional reference. Our products transform your skin while our business transforms lives.
  • Where can I buy beelove products? +

    beelove™ is the name of our product brand and is sold locally and on our website, www.beelovebuzz.com. Mariano’s is our marquee vendor, and we are also available in select Whole Foods storesOur honey and skincare products are distributed locally through celebrity chef Rick Bayless’ restaurants, multiple Hudson Newsstands at O’Hare and Midway Airport, and natural and organic grocers and boutiques including , Sugar Beet Food Co-Op, Ten Thousand Villages – Evanston, Green Grocer Chicago, Local Foods – Midwest, and the Greenheart Shop. Read More
  • How many apiaries (bee farms) does sweet beginnings operate? +

    Sweet Beginnings maintains four apiaries: at NLEN’s Workforce Training Center in the North Lawndale community, at the Nichols Tower in Homan Square, at the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and since May 2011 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Our O’Hare apiary is the first of its kind in the United States. This innovative partnership with the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) has transformed undeveloped airport land into a community resource that focuses on sustainability and workforce development. In honor of this partnership, Sweet Beginnings and the Chicago Department of Aviation received an Urban Land Institute Award in 2012.
  • What awards has Sweet Beginnings received? +

    The North Lawndale Employment Network and Sweet Beginnings received the inaugural award for Creative and Effective Institutions in 2006 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a NBC Jefferson Award in 2009, a Green Award from Chicago Magazine in 2009, the Neighborhood Housing Services Neighborhood Hero Award in 2010, Special Recognition Award of the 2012 Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards, the 2014 Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award, the 2015 Impact 100 Chicago Impact Award, the 2015 Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Award.
  • What media recognition has Sweet Beginnings received? +

    Sweet Beginnings and NLEN have been featured on The American Story with Bob Dotson on NBC’s The Today Show, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, in the New York Times, INC Magazine, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Chicago Tribune, on ABC7 News, Chicago Tonight, Majora Carter’s Promised Land radio show carried by NPR and Public Radio International, in Grist Online Magazine and many other local media sources. NLEN and Sweet Beginnings have been approached by organizations in more than 20 cities, states and countries interested in replicating NLEN’s innovative workforce development and transitional jobs model. Organizations have been located in as diverse place as Brazil, Los Angeles, China, Toronto, Australia, Milwaukee, England, Baltimore and more.
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