How entrepreneurship helps ex-inmates move forward
COLORADO SPRINGS – On a typical day, Jackie and Ernest Williams get up and start getting ready for where their “Williams Soul Food” food truck is ready to serve the people of Colorado Springs.
For Ernest, cooking some of his favorite Lousian dishes, whether it’s fried catfish or fries with a special seasoning, there’s nowhere he’d rather be.
“I love to cook, I get up in the middle of the night and start cooking,” Williams said, “my wife is like a man, do you cook already? And I’m like yes”
Williams and his wife started a restaurant business about three years ago in Colorado Springs. They moved from Louisiana to Colorado for their family, when they realized that some of their favorite foods weren’t as easy to find.
“It’s like your grandmother’s, your mother’s, your grandma’s cooking, it’s comfort food,” said Jackie Williams.
Ernest started working as a chef at Chili’s in Colorado Springs, “they knew I was going to be different,” he laughed. He started cooking some of his favorite dishes, like blood sausage.
Before he and his wife knew it, they were preparing food for their catering business. In 2020, they expanded the business to include a food truck.
The money to expand in part came from a program with the state known as “Transforming Safety”. The program focuses on efforts in northern Aurora and southeast Colorado Springs to reduce crime and recidivism, or the number of people going back behind bars.
One aspect of the program is for small business loans, helping those involved in the justice system to become entrepreneurs, Ernest has previously been incarcerated.
“I was incarcerated and overcame these tragedies in my life,” said Ernest Williams, he credits his faith and the support of the community for helping him move forward. “I have a wonderful business, I have a wonderful family, I have a wonderful community.”
His wife Jackie says the help and the process to get the funding was a big help.
“I’m mostly overwhelmed by coming to Colorado, I wasn’t expecting any of this,” said Jackie.
A recent report from the State Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) shows that the lending process has slowed since the program started distributing funds in 2018. Part of the reason is the amount of training and resources. necessary to obtain financing. With the economy slowing, it has also become difficult for start-ups to receive loans.
The state anticipates a slight increase as the economy recovers.
As for the Williams, they hope to eventually grow the business into a brick and mortar location. They say giving people another chance and the ability to own their own business is an important part of moving forward.
Ernest says people should seek out their talents and pursue them to continue on a new path, “your job, your gift to make 100,” Ernest said.
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