How One Non-Profit is Leading the Charge to Employ Social Change
The steady growth within the cannabis industry has led to many different business and entrepreneurial ideas as intrepid individuals discover new methods to break in to a crowded market. This consistent arena for opportunity was seen as a catalyst to inspire social progress by one California non-profit organization, Freedom House Reentry Education and Employment Corp (FREE).
FREE’s core belief is simple and universal; that everyone deserves a second chance. The organization aims to accomplish this by “reducing recidivism through reentry programs and social enterprises that empower the formerly incarcerated, their families and communities.” FREE aims to create the first-of-its-kind cannabis grow facility that employs those formerly locked up for cannabis related offences, with revenues generated from the project going to further develop their programs and assist communities heavily affected by the war on drugs and its relationship to a now legal substance.
Founder Dylan Hood first developed the concept for FREE while living in Illinois.He found a strong desire to help men and woman coming out of prison find opportunities that seemed difficult, often impossible, with a criminal justice system that seemed to define past offenders by their mistakes. Hood witnessed those searching for a second chance attempting to assimilate back into public life only to end up lost in a loop of despair with no social support system in place.
Struggling to gain funding and seeing progress out west, Hood headed for California to relocate himself and the project:
“I saw an amazing opportunity and was of the mindset that those individuals that were most affected by the war on drugs need to be able participate in what is going to be such a lucrative industry.” Hood saw a group of people left behind and in need and realized FREE could “create our own opportunities for individuals coming out of the criminal justice system by providing them with employment.”
That idea and inspiration to have a positive impact led to the growth of FREE in California and with it, lofty ambitions that seek to assist those dealing with reentry by allowing access to the thriving cannabis industry. The organization’s new campaign, 2mfeetofhope, seeks to establish two million square feet of commercial cannabis grow space. 2mfeetofhope anticipates this project to generate upwards of $500 million annually, creating 2500 high-paying jobs in the process. Salaries for employees will average $52,000 with benefits including a 401(k) savings, health coverage and tuition reimbursement programs.
After some initial struggles getting FREE off the ground and running, current public reception has been thoroughly positive. According to Hood, “Everyone loves it and when I tell people about what we are doing. They are in awe as it just makes perfect sense. For us, we are truly doing this as a not-for-profit and we will remain that way. Our job is to create revenue to sustain our programming as well as create employment opportunities for those individuals that are exiting the criminal justice system so they don’t have to go back.”
As public perception shifts towards acceptance and excitement for the cannabis industry, FREE hopes to position the organization as an example for others to follow. A non-profit endeavor involving such a traditionally for profit commodity may seem flippant but by establishing themselves within communities in need, FREE is turning a unique idea into a concrete impact on those involved. They are providing second chances for those who are often forgotten and doing it by taking advantage of a cultural shift that is unveiling new horizons.
Hood sees expansion as a possibility in the future after establishing the organization in California and believes the model can lead to progress across the country. “We are sharply eyeing all of the areas where cannabis is now legal and trying to gain a foothold there,” he says,and views the current location “as a testing ground.Once we have taken care of California, we will have a better understanding of what it takes and be more informed.”
FREE’s fundraising efforts are on track, though continued funding is critical for any non-profit. If you’d like to find out more information or make a donation to support the organization, please visit: