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One NKU alumna and her mission to change the lives of second-chance citizens

Katie Schad
Photo by Scott Beseler
Katie Schad Photo by Scott Beseler

“I’ve seen people get promoted, find a new home and get their kids back. They say prison is the best thing that ever happened to them because they’re here now.”

by Jayna Morris
Assistant Editor, NKU Magazine

Katie Schad believes in second chances. That’s what makes her job as a social worker at Nehemiah Manufacturing so important.

Schad, a recent graduate of the College of Education and Human Services one-year advanced standing master’s in social work program at Northern Kentucky University, started her journey at Nehemiah nearly four years ago when she was an undergraduate student. She loved her internship so much that she went back there to work part time while she pursued her master’s degree at NKU. 

What makes Nehemiah so special? For the last eight years, Nehemiah has provided employment opportunities for second-chance citizens—recently incarcerated people who are trying to get back on their feet.

Schad also manages the Beacon of Hope Business Alliance, a Nehemiah-based coalition that connects second-chance citizens to opportunities within area companies and social services. Nehemiah functions as a model to prove second-chance hiring creates some of the most loyal, hardworking individuals.

“For me, it’s not about being innocent or being guilty,” Schad says. “This population faces a lot more barriers than people realize. I talk to people after they’re out, when they’re fighting to get back to a normal life. Doing that in today’s society is difficult with the stigma of having a criminal record—not even just a job, but housing and family and friends. All they really need is a chance to work and get their life back to normal.

“I’ve seen people get promoted, find a new home and get their kids back. They say prison is the best thing that ever happened to them because they’re here now.”

This second-chance scenario was the case for Michael Taylor. Before Nehemiah, Taylor was a drug addict who ended up in jail on two felony convictions. But when he made the decision to get his addiction under control, he ran into a number of roadblocks.

“While I was in jail, I decided I wanted to change my life, but I didn’t know how to do that,” Taylor says. “When I got out, I couldn’t get a foothold anywhere. I was in and out of jobs…until I landed here. I see two parts to my life: before Nehemiah, and after Nehemiah.”

Now, eight promotions later, Taylor is Nehemiah’s operations manager. He’s on his feet, married and recently bought his first home. Because Nehemiah gave him a second chance at life, he was able to successfully re-enter society with full-time employment.

Taylor is just one example of the people Schad gets to works with every day—people who simply need a little help finding the right direction.

“Many employees who come to Nehemiah just need a chance to prove themselves,” says Nehemiah CEO and founder Dan Meyer. “We’re here really just to help those who need it most that no one else will hire. We’re here to help people who need and deserve a second chance.”

And Nehemiah doesn’t just benefit its second-chance employees—Schad’s chance to gain real-world experience while still a student was pivotal to launching her career as a social worker.

“Students come into our program, and our job is to teach them the skills that social workers need. In class students are exposed to “book knowledge,” but it’s in the field placement that the rubber hits the road,” says Megan Lindsey, field director for NKU’s master’s program in social work. “They’re in the community engaging with clients, and they’re applying that knowledge in real-life situations. The amount of growth we see in students is absolutely amazing.”

Lindsey remembers working with Schad when she sought field placement during her time in the master’s program.

“Katie knew what she wanted to be when she grew up,” Lindsey says. “Not everyone walks into the social work field and says, ‘I want to work with felons.’ She invested in the field to be a lifelong learner.”

Schad’s decision to pursue her role at Nehemiah gives her the chance to learn daily from others who, in turn, get a second chance when they need it most.