JASPER — Terry Windels of Dale, 40, is determined to get a college degree, despite being in Dubois County Community Corrections.
Windels recently earned his Certified Production Technician certificate through a partnership between the corrections center and Ivy Tech Community College’s Evansville campus. Windels and three other work release clients took the class at no charge thanks to a grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs obtained by the Perry County Development Corp. to provide underemployed or unemployed individuals in the region with the skills they need to move up.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” Windels said of his decision to take the course. “They were offering free education.”
Windels was arrested and charged with an OWI in 2016 and will finish his sentence in February. He says his life is more on track now than it’s ever been.
National Office Furniture hired Windels in April, and he currently works for the company as a central storage administrator, a job he enjoys. He plans to make a career at National, and taking the certification course was part of that goal. The course, which Ivy Tech offers at all of its campuses, covers manufacturing processes and production, maintenance awareness, safety and continuous improvement, and quality.
For local industry, finding people with those skills is key.
Angie Kleinhelter, director of human resources for National, said that while the company does see a worker shortage, those who apply often don’t have all the necessary skills.
“With them having the certification of safety walking in, that’s huge,” Kleinhelter said, adding that the continuous improvement — a method for streamlining work processes and reducing waste — component is another huge plus.
"It's been a good experience," Windels said of the work release program. "I'm going to windup coming out of jail better off than when I went in."
For the program, Ivy Tech offered the course to community corrections clients only at the Jasper Chamber of Commerce. The course was condensed to seven weeks from its usual 16 weeks and the group met four times a week. The class finished in December. Of the four clients who took the course, three passed, and the fourth wants to try again, course instructor Craig Jefferson said. To him, that’s a success. Typically, he said, only 20 percent of his students attain the certification.
Ivy Tech plans to offer the program again at Dubois County Corrections and is working out the details. The college would also like to expand the program to other corrections facilities in the area.
For community corrections, the program is a way to offer programs focused on employment skills. While there are myriad programs available to work release clients, Megan Durlauf, director of community corrections, said most of them focus on treatment and the thought process that brought people to work release rather than on education and employment.
For clients who focus on employment issues as a driving factor for their choices, Durlauf said, the program can make a huge difference. For someone who was selling drugs because they lacked the skills to get a decent job, Durlauf said, the Ivy Tech program and the certification it provides could be a way out. She looks at the program as something else case managers can offer their clients to better themselves.
In Windels’ case, the program was a huge jump-start. He’s working on enrolling at Ivy Tech to pursue a degree in programming and logic controls, which pertains to a lot of the machines National uses. Eventually, he’d like to become a production manager. For Windels, it’s easy to find a reason to better himself.
“My little boy,” he said. “He’s everything.”
Windels has custody of his 5-year-old son after a messy divorce that the man said led to his drinking. Windels’ mother has been taking care of her grandson while Windels serves his time. Windels appreciates being able to go to bed knowing his son is safe and loved, even though he’d rather be the one taking care of the boy. In the meantime, he said, he’s going to take advantage of every opportunity the justice system gives him to move up.
“You throw a desperate person in a desperate situation, it’s an intelligent thing to give them a leg up,” Windels said. “Some people abuse it, I’m sure, but I’m going to take full advantage of everything they offer. It’s there to help you. Why not?”