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Officials estimated more than 200 ex-offenders came to the London Community Center Thursday to meet with prospective employers in their search for employment. Fourteen companies had representatives on hand, while another seven companies made applications available.

Tim Gearing came from McCreary County Thursday morning looking for someone willing to give an ex-offender a second chance. The father of five has a second strike against him, his conviction in 2003 was for third-degree rape.

“Its hard,” Gearing said of his job search, which has been on going since his previous employer, Gregory’s Lumber, closed its doors about one month ago.

Gearing admitted even a good reference from his parole officer isn’t enough to open the door of opportunity for him, especially when prospective employers learn that the crime he was convicted of is sex-related. However, he knows it will only take one employer willing to give him that chance, even if it means a daily commute from McCreary County.

“Once I find a job, I plan on staying there,” Gearing said. “I’m just going to keep trying.”

Gearing joined about 200 other job-seekers at the London Community Center for the inaugural ex-offender job fair. Ex-offenders from Laurel, Bell, Clay, Clinton, Harlan, Jackson, Knox, Leslie, McCreary, Rockcastle and Whitley counties had the opportunity to meet with representatives from 14 companies across the region. Organizers said an additional seven companies sent job applications.

Crissy Norman, a senior U.S. probation clerk with the U.S. Probation Office, said multiple studies have shown that more job and educational opportunities decreases the number of ex-offenders who re-offend.

Among the employers at the event was Tate Begley from Begley’s Lumber in London. Begley said like any other business, it is a matter of finding employees who are suited to the business. In the past, Begley said the company has extended that opportunity to someone with a criminal history and it has worked out well.

“We’ve hired a couple of guys in the past that turned out to be pretty good workers,” Begley said.

While Begley Lumber doesn’t have any job openings at the moment, Begley said that could change at a moment’s notice so it is always good to have a stack of applications on hand.

“We are full right now, but come next week, you just don’t know,” Begley said.

In addition to job opportunities, representatives from area institutions of higher learning including Somerset Community College and Union College, were available at the job fair.

Trent Pool, an admissions adviser at Somerset Community College, explained that SCC students can work toward a college degree or take classes teaching them technical skills such as air conditioning service and repair, carpentry, cosmetology, electrical, masonry, auto body repair and welding. SCC’s main campus is located Somerset and its London Campus is a full-service campus. In addition, SCC operates centers in McCreary, Russell, Clinton and Casey counties.

Pool provided information about scholarships and financial aid available, explaining classes at SCC cost about $121 per credit hour. In addition, students can expect to spend about $500 per semester for books.

“Applicants do not have to disclose their criminal history when applying for admission,” Pool explained. “There are no questions on the application asking if you have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.”

Staff writer Dean Manning may be reached at dmanning@sentinel-echo.com.

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