A business within a nonprofit

A new Sussex County nonprofit is seeing early success in employing prior offenders.

Elevated Community Development Corporation was founded by 48-year-old Lillian Harrison-Brown, of Millsboro, in December. People on work release or recently released from prison can turn to Elevated for both job skills and jobs.

Harrison-Brown’s background is in community and economic development. She works full time for the Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council, providing counseling on things like credit and budgeting.

When her son was incarcerated in 2017, she formulated a goal.

“The chatter of those incarcerated is that once you have anything on your record, it’s going to be hard to succeed, to get a job or education,” she said. “I made him a promise that that would never be his story.”

That promise became Elevated Community Development Corporation.

It started out as a ministry, providing flagging training for recently released prisoners. However, Harrison-Brown found companies were hesitant to hire ex-cons.

“So we did something a little unique for a nonprofit,” she said.

Under the nonprofit banner, she started a business.

“That way I could do the hiring,” she said.

The construction division renovates houses and does property preservation. They’re also forming a cleaning division and looking into other industries.

“We have steady work and are completely self-funded,” Harrison-Brown said.

ECDC employees are paid a minimum of $11 an hour. So far, seven people have been hired with about five more coming in.

Employment, however, is not the final goal.

“We foster them into entrepreneurship, education, partnerships,” Harrison-Brown said. “Every three months we level up, look at where everyone is and what is everyone’s next step. What do they want to do next? Maybe they become a contractor with their own employees.”

Elevated holds workshops called Evolutions the first Saturday of each month, to meet and greet potential candidates to determine their skills and personal goals. The nonprofit works with the Department of Labor and the Department of Corrections for referrals, but anyone can contact them for help.

Harrison-Brown said there is no reason someone wouldn’t be accepted.

“Give me the unloved, the homeless, the unwanted. I’m gonna show you they can be great. I’m gonna show them they can be great,” she said.

ECDC’s poster child is Harrison-Brown’s husband, 56-year-old James Brown. Brown went to prison on June 7, 1988. He was sentenced to life on various charges, including unlawful sexual contact, and was paroled in December 2017.

Before that he spent his life in Philadelphia and Wilmington.

“After you’re in jail for a while, you start thinking, are you going to make it? I mean, literally make it, are you gonna die there?” he said. “When you have life you have to start thinking about making adjustments. I learned you can’t mix things – even one small thing can ruin all the good you’ve done. If you go to jail all bets are off.”

He met Harrison-Brown at a flagging course.

“She challenged me,” he said with a smile. “She said, ‘We’ll see if you’re serious about this.’ And I showed up and went to work.”

Working alongside Brown in the construction division is Paxton Forman, of Georgetown. He was released in January and is grateful for the help.

“I was hurt and down, and they came and scooped me up,” he said. “They found me.”

Harrison-Brown is busy expanding ECDC. She’s starting to work on writing grants and is in the process of expanding to New Castle County, with plans to follow with Kent.

A website will be at elevated-cdc.org, but in the meantime, call 302-864-4081.