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New nonprofit Change Course to help individuals facing barriers with workforce transitions

Retired DM business leader Joseph Johnson leads the organization


Joseph Johnson, a recently retired Des Moines business leader, and his wife, Karin, started a new nonprofit in February called Change Course, which will offer a tuition-free career and community development program to individuals coming out of incarceration, addiction treatment or poverty.

Johnson wants Change Course to provide others opportunities like the ones he received when returning to the workforce after he was incarcerated earlier in life.

“I had the opportunity because an employer took a chance on me,” Johnson told the Business Record. “I’ve had two employers over those years, and both of them knew my history and they gave me a shot and it gave me an opportunity. So we want to pay this forward to other people that don’t have that same privilege or opportunity that I had.”

In a news release, he said he met people who struggled to enter the workforce “not from lack of desire, but the lack of opportunity, quality education, and support from a healthy community.”

The first six-month program is set to start on Nov. 7. It will start with personal development courses to help participants, who will be called leaders in the program, better understand themselves.

“A lot of the people that come into our program don’t really know who they are,” Johnson said. “They’ve grown up in an atmosphere or a family or a community where they really became what they needed to become to survive, and often they’re stuck in that cycle. We start to say, ‘Who really are you? What are your dreams?’”

The next phase will focus on career and life skills, where relationships with Des Moines Area Community College and Iowa WORKS will further participants’ workforce preparation. Johnson said he is also using his connections from 25 years in the business community to identify partner companies and career opportunities like apprenticeships.

Adults ages 18-55 who hold a GED or high school diploma are eligible to apply for the program. Change Course will connect individuals who need to obtain their GED with the Evelyn K. Davis Center.

Change Course will be the fifth program in the country to use a model developed by Denver-based career development nonprofit CrossPurpose.

Johnson said the program in Denver has found that many participants are single parents who were stuck in poverty, so he is searching for job opportunities for participants that will help lift them out of the cycle.

“We’re really excited about the impact I think we can make in Des Moines because Des Moines is a large enough community where it has the need but it’s small enough that we can really see a difference,” Johnson said.

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