Second Chances with Unifirst


One year ago, Algeron Smith was working part-time as a general laborer, struggling to make ends meet after completing a prison sentence. Intent on finding a more stable job with better pay that would draw upon his skills, Algernon sought out StepUp Durham and attended StepUp’s Employment Readiness Workshop at the referral of the city employment office. Algernon recalls, “I’ll admit, at first I was skeptical about the training. I was working part-time and really wasn’t looking for some program to waste my time. But as I attended the workshop and started listening to people telling me I do have a second chance… it was so encouraging!”

During the workshop, Algernon created his first résumé, set up a professional email account, and learned how to present himself in interviews in ways that encouraged potential employers to see beyond his criminal background. And what employers discovered in Algernon was an employee whose attitude and work ethic reflected a genuine excitement to be on the job.


Shortly after graduating StepUp’s workshop, Algernon obtained a job performing property maintenance and custodial work at UniFirst, a uniform and facility services company that offers personalized uniforms, facility cleaning, and maintenance equipment to its nationwide clientele. He has enjoyed the hands-on nature of his work and his interaction with colleagues, as well as the many opportunities available for him to learn new skills in different areas of the plant.

As he nears his one-year anniversary on the job and reflects on his experience at StepUp, Algernon recalls: “My time at StepUp raised my self-esteem and gave me the confidence to believe I could accomplish things in my life I never thought possible. I would suggest StepUp to anybody who’s really trying to get their lives together, especially someone who may have a criminal record. Because without StepUp, I never would have tried to aim for the level of job that I have now. The program helped me do things I couldn’t have done alone.” Algernon has worked hard to overcome those obstacles that once stood in his way to employment, making him another among many StepUp participants worth celebrating!

Written by Luke Ehrhardt
Duke Divinity School Fellow

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