How Volunteering at Fortune Changed Gus’s Perspective

How Volunteering at Fortune Changed Gus’s Perspective

02/06/2020

After 37 years at IBM working with customers like Citibank and Merrill Lynch, Gus Maikish wanted to give back and do meaningful work after retirement. The opportunity to do so came to him through a position as a contractor for IBM in Vietnam, where he trained individuals in sales and worked with banking customers helping to build technology infrastructures. Now, he continues to help cultivate similar skills with participants at The Fortune Society—efforts that have, over time, changed his views towards criminal justice reform and formerly incarcerated people.

Before volunteering at Fortune, Gus was uncertain about what it would be like. He tended to view justice-involved individuals in the context of stereotypes commonly perpetuated in society—so much so that he imagined that Fortune might be a dangerous place. However, once he started volunteering in our Employment Services unit, he grew to discover that it is a friendly space filled with supportive staff members and determined people who continually strive to change their lives.

Gus went on to immerse himself in the volunteering opportunities at Fortune such as the Mock Interview Program, in which volunteers coach participants in how to conduct themselves during a job interview and providing them with the career skills needed to succeed.

For Gus, mock interviews continuously reaffirm the idea that formerly incarcerated individuals are not defined solely by their pasts.

“I've interviewed people with PhDs in math, PhDs in music and people still trying to finish the GED program. It's the whole gamut of people,” he said. “I've interviewed people, young people who made a mistake, that if I was hiring for IBM, I would have hired some of these people…they're charismatic, they're energetic, smart people, but somehow they make a mistake.”

He also understands that mistakes can be the result of environment and upbringing. A sobering conversation he had in the ‘90s with a high school friend who became a police officer reminded him of this.

“He went through this whole list of names, people that I had gone to high school with who were either in prison or dead, or had been in prison. So, I can look at the mistakes that people make, and you could say by the grace of God, why? Because, [of] the environment…a lot of these people faced,” Gus said.

Today, Gus’s passion for helping people move on from their past mistakes has led him to serve as co-chair of Fortune’s volunteer committee, which was established over two years ago due to the high volume of people that signed up to volunteer. Since being involved at Fortune, Gus advocated for fundamental changes to its volunteer services, including the introduction of a welcome desk to the Mock Interview Program—an idea initially inspired by a woman, Adelaide Connaughton, who used to work at Fortune.

“She said to us, ‘you know these people when they're released, they're a number, and nobody treats them like human beings,’” she said. “And, what she wanted was someone to sit there and talk to them like a human being to make them feel welcome and comfortable.”

Volunteers do that now, 9:00 to noon Monday through Friday.

In addition, Gus has explored the idea of establishing a case worker program in which volunteers mentor clients and keep track of their personal development throughout their time at Fortune. He also hopes to incorporate other skillsets and opportunities into the program, such as marketing and psychology, in order to further expand and supplement services at Fortune.

Today, Fortune has over 100 volunteers.

Almost six years have passed since first volunteering at Fortune, Gus reflects on all that he’s learned as a result of his change in outlook towards justice involved people.

“I didn't know quite what to expect, but I certainly didn't expect what I found here,” he said. “…[participants] really want to try. They need a job. They want to support their families. They want a normal kind of life—they don't want to go back to prison.”

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