D.C.

Clean Team program gives former inmates a chance

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WASHINGTON (WJLA) - Council member Mary Cheh celebrated the arrival of a so-called Clean Team to Cleveland Park in Ward 3 on Friday. The program keeps sidewalks and streets litter-free, but it also gives jobs to returning citizens – men and women recently released from prison and looking for employment.

Thirty-nine-year-old D.C. resident Chris McClellan spent 20 years in prison. Released in 2011, he struggled to find his footing as he struggled to find employment.

"A lot of people turned me around. They didn't want to give a return citizen a second chance," he said.

But McClellan later discovered the Clean Team program – one of its crews managed by the Columbia Heights Shaw Family Support Collaborative.

Participants in the Collaborative’s program make between $10 and $12 an hour, plus some benefits. They also receive job training and help with their resumes.

Penelope Griffith, the executive director of the Collaborative, said, “So we start them off on the Clean Team and build up their resume, build up their confidence, and prepare them for the next job that they may have in mind. So it's an entry level position and the goal is to have you out of here within six months to a year.”

Already deployed in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Council member Cheh said she secured $500,000 to deploy more Clean Teams along Connecticut Avenue in her ward, as well as 12th Street Northeast and Minnesota Avenue Northeast. Cheh called the program a win-win-win.

“It uplifts the community, makes it a more attractive place,” said Cheh. “And the businesses particularly are advantaged by that because people want to come here. It makes them feel better.”

But should the D.C. government subsidize street cleaning when businesses and residents could take the lead? Cheh and business owners said the collective effort is good for all and that the trash build-up in Cleveland Park has been getting bad.

Business owner Anthony Quinn said, “I've even had people come in and say they're not made to feel welcome walking down our street.”

Ultimately, for McClellan and other ex-cons in the Clean Team program, they hope this work will lead to more employment opportunities.

“My goal is to maintain my freedom, stay healthy, just get a job where I can live a nice, comfortable life,” McClellan said.

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