Pat O’Brien was at the top of his game when a strange letter arrived in his office.
He was the Chairman of the Board of Rogers-O’Brien, a leading general contractor in Texas that he co-founded with Steve Rogers in 1969. The firm was poised to deliver its highest amount of construction volume over the coming years, and Pat had recently transitioned into his Chairman role after decades as the company’s CEO. He now had the great pleasure of watching his son Preston and grandson Justin leading the company that he had built.
But as he sat in his office going through the mail, one invitation stood out: “Join me in prison.”
The letter was from a nonprofit called the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. It was an invitation for Pat to volunteer as a judge for a business plan competition… inside of a Texas prison. As an entrepreneur himself, Pat was intrigued by the concept. He soon met the staff and some of the organization’s inspiring graduates and eventually accepted their invitation to join them in prison in 2007.
How little he knew, that first trip would become a life sentence.
Pat was so impressed by what he saw at PEP that he joined the organization’s newly formed Dallas Advisory Board, whose quarterly meetings he began to host at his office. He continued to volunteer in prison, but he also began mentoring graduates who were released to Dallas after prison. And more importantly, he suggested that his HR team begin interviewing PEP graduates to work at the firm.
“At first, I was very skeptical,” said Ken Dunham, VP of Human Resources. “But when I had that first interview, I was immediately impressed and called one of our superintendents to tell him that he needed to meet this guy.”
That PEP graduate – Adam M. – nailed both interviews thanks to the coaching he received from PEP. He immediately impressed the superintendent, who went from being cautious about having a former felon on his team to demanding that Adam work on any crew that he supervised. Adam’s integrity, determination and commitment to excellence were hallmarks of Rogers-O’Brien; the superintendent wanted those qualities on his team.
Adam has since been promoted several times at Rogers-O’Brien. With the ongoing mentoring of his supervisor and men like Mr. Dunham and Mr. O’Brien, Adam has also started a family. He claims that his entire life has been transformed by the belief that Mr. O’Brien placed in PEP.
“I am grateful for the second chance that I have been given to prove myself,” Adam recently told a room full of 30+ potential employers gathered at the Royal Oaks Country Club.
Realizing that access to jobs plays a critical role in the transformation of formerly incarcerated men, Mr. Dunham and Mr. O’Brien co-hosted the gathering along with Keith Bird from Alcon, Steve Heussner from Mogul Wealth Strategies and Jack Sovern from Hunt Construction Group. These executives wanted to introduce their peers to the Prison Entrepreneurship Program and its graduates.
Adam spoke at the event along with several other PEP graduates. Their stories inspired the guests so much that several immediately offered to interview PEP graduates for jobs. One even offered to pay for additional training for PEP graduates to be able to join his firm. Within a month, a number of PEP graduates began working for firms represented at the event (including several of the graduates who spoke that day).
“Pat is a great example of how a donor can really make a tremendous impact on PEP in ways that go beyond financial support,” said Bert Smith, CEO of PEP. “He is a remarkable ambassador for us. His willingness to lend his name to our efforts gives us the credibility that we need to succeed in our mission.”
Earlier this year, Pat travelled to Houston to speak to a gathering of the Philanthropy Roundtable about his involvement in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. The event drew philanthropists who annually donate at least $50,000 to charitable causes, and Pat spoke to them about how their personal involvement can complement their financial investment in organizations.
“Getting involved with PEP is one of the greatest things that I have done in my life,” said Pat. “I have never seen a greater return on the time and money that I have invested in a nonprofit than what I have seen through PEP.”
PEP does not just change the lives of those who are incarcerated; we transform the hearts of our volunteers, the strength of our graduates’ employers, and the future of our entire community.
Learn more at www.PEP.org.