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Blue Jacket has Fort Wayne covered
As the organization marks its 12th year, director Anthony Hudson reflects on their achievements
By Greg Jackson
Fort Wayne Reader
I like to think of Blue Jacket as the “hard reboot” button on life’s laptop: we all stumble and fall sometimes, and knowing there are organizations like Blue Jacket to help you back up gives you a little faith in the human spirit.
Blue Jacket is a social and economic development non-profit whose mission is to provide tools and opportunities for adults — some with felony records or other “social barriers” — to be productive members of society. Whether through bad choices, bad circumstances, or bad luck, many of Blue Jacket’s clients have seen the uglier side of life. I am a person who could have ended up a Blue Jacket client, but I was fortunate in that I had a supportive family that helped me bounce back. Some of us aren’t that lucky.
I sat down with Anthony Hudson, Blue Jacket Incorporated’s Executive Director, to talk about the organization’s mission and how they help certain segments of our society. Blue Jacket started roughly 12 years ago and has spent those years aiding people with an array of obstacles holding them back from acquiring jobs and turning their life around. I know Hudson personally, so I thought I had a good idea of what Blue Jacket did. Turns out, I only knew part of the story.
My perception was that a Blue Jacket client needed to have been through the criminal justice system, but to my surprise I found out that right now the client demographics are about 60-40 criminal justice/other social barriers. What falls under the title “other social barriers”? Hudson explained that was anything that would prohibit you from being able to just walk into a business and apply for a job; things like addiction, language, mental disabilities, and physical limitations all can be barriers to people and cause them to end up in a place where you need to hit the reboot button on life.
Some of the services Blue Jacket provides are practical skills. I got to sit in on a few classes taught by business professionals that focused on teaching clients how to get and keep a job. One class highlighted the interview process — five or so clients, working with a teacher, took turns going through a mock interview session. Afterwards, the clients would go over the good and bad aspects of the interview, taking feedback from the instructor and their peers.
This enables the clients to learn from their experience and from the experience of their peers as well. It also helps with the nerves and anxiety that come during the interview process. Like most things, interviewing for a job becomes easier the more practice you have. Going through the class is stressful to the clients at first, but the class helps them become far more comfortable with the process.
Hudson says that so far this year, Blue Jacket has placed 200 people into jobs. 12 years ago that was a much smaller number, but Hudson says he’s seen the number of people needing their services increase year after year. The “staffing” aspect of the Blue Jacket — the part of the organization that places graduates as they roll out of training — has obviously expanded over the years. Hudson explains he has agreements with about 30 active companies who hire Blue Jacket to staff them with employees. He adds that there are a good number of companies in town that are not currently active, but have that same agreement with Blue Jacket. In my eyes, this is one of the most important aspects of Blue Jacket in that it makes the non-profit organization largely self-supporting. Being knowledgeable about the nonprofit and philanthropic world, I know how important it is to have foundations and donors view you as not resting on your laurels.
Anthony and Blue Jacket also understand the social aspects of being an entity here in town as an organization and they completely run the festival of lights at Christmas time. I know Anthony and parts of his staff and even family spend countless hours before the festival of lights opens setting everything up and getting it ready to go.
Currently, Blue Jacket occupies almost an entire square block of southern downtown Fort Wayne, but they have a multi-phase plan to expand and acquire a few new properties so they can rejuvenate the south Calhoun street area they are based on. Hudson showed me his “map” of the plan. Right now the Blue Jacket clothing retail store — open to the public and stocked with slightly used business and professional attire — is hidden in the back of the building. The new phase moves the store out in front, along Calhoun Street, making it more accessible to people other than Blue Jacket clients.
That’s just one element of Blue Jacket’s plans for expansion and increasing their capacity to serve more clients. Hudson always stresses that at Blue Jacket they expect their clients to make an earnest and sincere effort to take advantage of the services that the organization offers; the organization isn’t a “charity.” But Hudson and the other people who run Blue Jacket have something special about them, a willingness to do the tough work of helping people who wouldn’t be able to work to be self-sufficient, turning them into citizens with paying jobs and living on their own instead of assisted housing or going back and forth and in and out of jail. I rarely use the phrase “salt of the earth,” but it seems to me to be the only real deserving term for the folks at Blue Jacket.