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Pay It Forward: Woman helps ex-convicts build job skills with bakery

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For many ex-convicts, it’s difficult to find a job because of their prison record.

One St. Louis woman is on a mission to help change that one baked good at a time.

Fox 2/News 11`s Dan Gray looks at why she is our Pay It Forward recipient this month.

Kalen McAllister started a bakery in 2015 to address the overwhelming problem of recidivism. Only ex-felons are hired to work there.  Board member Sue Jackson nominated her for our Pay It Forward award a $500 gift card from First Bank.  Sue asked another board member, retired Missouri Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi to surprise her with the award.

"Kalen step over here. On behalf of Fox 2 and First Bank, they want to present you with a little gift certificate for the hard work that you've done. We`re all so proud of you for what you have set up here to help ex-offenders," said Lombardi.

McAllister who is a Buddhist priest worked as a chaplain at the Farmington correctional facility where she noticed a troubling pattern among inmates nearing their release dates, "The men would come to me right before they were getting out and would say we're really worried about this," said McAllister.

Worried that without a job to go to they may end up back in prison she promised to help them.

After she retired she founded Laughing Bear Bakery.  The former inmates are hired and taught how to bake so they can build a work history that will lead them onto a path to find a better job, " We have had 20 people come through the bakery now, only one that I know of for sure has gone back to prison the rest of them have gone on to other jobs, ones working for the City of St. Louis full time, one is managing a restaurant."

Lombardi credited her with reducing recidivism, "She is providing such a great environment for ex-offenders to come and feel safe and feel good about what they're doing to build their self-esteem."

Kalen is not judgmental about the former inmates she hires, "I never ask a baker what they did, I don't care what they did, for me it’s from this moment to the next moment to the next moment."

Tonight's Pay It Forward award is brought to you by First Bank.  If you would like to nominate a deserving person for the award go to fox2now.com and look for the Pay It Forward page.

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