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Drive Change

Stories of Impact

With the highest rate of incarcerated people in the world, our nation’s prison industrial complex generates billions of dollars in government expenditures. But mass incarceration also forces Americans to pay a different, more damaging toll: As Kalilah Moon, the Executive Director of Drive Change, knows all too well, the separation that imprisonment causes wreaks havoc on families and entire communities — especially communities of color.

Having had loved ones impacted by the criminal justice system, Moon still remembers the feeling of helplessness of not being able to find ways to help. Today, she’s part of leading the charge at Drive Change, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that was founded in 2014 and currently creates employment pathways for formerly incarcerated young people (ages 18 to 25) in the food and hospitality industry to bolster their economic and emotional wellbeing.

Drive Change is determined to create new pathways for employment following incarceration. By actively challenging the hospitality industry to hire, train, and retain qualified young people and provide workplaces that are equitable and supportive, the organization is working to lift the barriers that leave our formerly incarcerated neighbors without viable alternatives and isolated from their communities.

Through this four-month program, Drive Change helps as many as 45 fellows learn the ins and outs of the hospitality industry, along with other adjacent industries like agriculture. But Drive Change isn’t merely a job readiness or job placement program — it helps its fellows see new possibilities for their lives and to shed the negative messages that have shaped their perceptions of themselves. “What we do is help fellows see themselves as who they truly are, and help them understand that they deserve a seat at the table,” Moon shared. “We want to help the young people in our program to manifest their destinies and acquire the skills to get there.”

One Drive Change fellow, Brandon, was incarcerated but also on work release, which allowed him to work during the day. This meant he could participate in the program and work with their employer partner, Caffe Panna. During the pandemic, like most restaurants, Caffe Panna was forced to close and let go of its staff, which meant Brandon was then expected to return to jail. But seeing how dedicated he was to turning his life around, the restaurant program partner created a new job for him. Brandon graduated from the program in 2020 and today is leading teams, taking on managerial responsibilities, and thriving.

What we do is help fellows see themselves as who they truly are, and help them understand that they deserve a seat at the table. Kahlilah Moon, Executive Director

Not only has Drive Change been able to benefit from our grantmaking, Moon is also a member of our leadership institute that brings leaders in nonprofits together.

Brooklyn Org has proudly supported the system-shifting work that Drive Change has done over the years, including providing funds for training and job experiences for fellows through a nonprofit food truck, direct cash assistance to out-of-work restaurant and hospitality fellows, and  resources to aid its culinary training program’s transition to online remote learning. In 2024, Drive Change was awarded the Brooklyn Org Spark Prize, benefitting from a further $100,000 ‘no strings attached’ grant investing in their work.

“Brooklyn Org exemplifies the values of equity, social and racial justice that are foundational to the work we do at Drive Change,” Moon shared. “That is why it is such an honor for us to be awarded the Brooklyn Org Spark Prize, which will ultimately enable our organization to serve more young, formerly incarcerated New Yorkers and invest in additional resources and tools to prepare them for successful careers in the hospitality industry.”

In addition to support with programming, Moon herself has benefited from BKO’s various resources for nonprofit leaders. As a member of a BKO leadership institute, Moon has been given the chance to see other Black women in leadership roles. “There’s no roadmap to becoming an executive director, especially for Black women leaders,” she explained. “But being able to sit down and speak with other women leaders in the nonprofit sector has been transformative.”

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