During County Government Month in April, CSAC is presenting blogs and short video features on 13 award-winning programs from nine counties that demonstrate effective, original and cost-conscious ways counties are serving their citizens.

Monterey County’s KickStart Ex-Offender Re-Entry Employment Program is about providing ex-offenders with the tools to find a job. Through a series of workshops, ex-offenders learn everything from writing a resume and dressing for an interview, to how to show contrition for their offenses. But the value of this program runs much deeper — it’s changing the outlook ex-offenders have of themselves and their lives.

When discussing KickStart and its value, ex-offenders Robert Carmona and Johnny Flores both talk about how the program has helped them with their attitude and choices. And this in turn has benefited them beyond their employment search.

“The instructors talk about how to get away from the negativity — what being positive brings to you and the people around you,” Carmona said. “This program has helped me choose and pick the people around me. I don’t need the negativity; positive people are more than welcome. I now feel more confident about myself. … You just keep growing.”

Flores agrees. “It’s made me think different about life. It’s helped me in a lot of different ways – my way of living, my way of thinking, my attitude and my personality. They’ve given me more of a positive attitude.”

Monterey County’s Alma McHoney, who oversees the program, understands the intrinsic value of KickStart.

“We are helping family life and that’s a huge part of it,” she explains. “If we can help them feel better about themselves and they can get back with their families, that not only affects the bottom line financially but it affects their quality of life and everyone in their life. And I that’s as big a part of it as the financial part.”

KickStart is also succeeding in its core mission of helping ex-offenders be better prepared for the job market. McHoney notes that of the individuals who have successfully completed the program, about 25-35 percent have gotten jobs. “That’s huge,” she continues, “Especially when you take the state of the economy into account.” Between seven and 15 “students” on average have attend the monthly workshops over the past two years. You can do the math on how many ex-offenders have landed jobs thanks to this program.

The program’s positive impacts also cross county lines. Since the workshops have been offered to ex-offenders from Soledad Prison, these parolees have been able to take what they learned back to their home counties. You can now find ex-offenders living in Los Angeles County or San Diego County – and working. And it’s not just a program for ex-offenders who served time in Monterey County. Johnny Flores began attending the KickStart program after moving to Salinas from San Mateo County to be with family.

KickStart students are quick to give credit to the instructors. In fact, McHoney believes the quality of the instructors is what makes the program work. “You have to have someone who believes in the program and really wants to help and sees the potential – not someone who sees it as just another part of their job.”

For instructor Allen Ogletree, it’s anything but a job. “I’m thrilled to death to do what I do,” he says. “I’m privileged.”

County Government works, which is why Californians prefer to have programs and services managed and operated at the local level. The county programs featured by CSAC during County Government Month are 2011 CSAC Challenge Award recipients. These awards recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Call for Entries for the 2012 CSAC Challenge Awards is being distributed this month.

David Liebler is the Director of Public Affairs and Member Services for the California State Association of Counties. He can be reached at dliebler.at.counties.org.