Stronger Houston: Nonprofit provides jobs, financial support and housing to ex-offenders

Stronger Houston

In a time known as The Great Resignation, Jose Martinez and Tonya Elder are ready to work.

“I’ve been doing my best,” Martinez said.

Martinez and Elder work for Integrated Food Concepts of Houston. Part of their job is cleaning up a prep kitchen, but they are also cleaning up their lives.

“Before I changed my life, nobody trusted me,” Elder said.

Both Martinez and Elder are ex-offenders.

Martinez did 32 years in prison for murder. Although the now 79-year-old said he didn’t commit that particular crime, he said he did do a lot of other crimes and was addicted to alcohol.

“It had to be a reason for me to do the time because I had to pay for everything that I have done way back in my days,” he said.

Elder said before she was placed in a loving foster home, she was raised in the system and sexually abused as a child.

“Even though I had a good life, I was missing my mom and stuff like that, so I would act out,” she said. “I was a fighter.”

Elder said she stabbed a man and was sentenced to five years in prison.

“I lost my parents, too, while I was in there,” she said.

Elder vowed to change her life, and that’s when she was introduced to Jimmy Howard, the founder of Noble Truth.

“I’m just struck by how easy it is to provide baseline fundamental services to help people get their lives back on track. It doesn’t take that much,” Jimmy said.

The nonprofit provides housing, financial support, and mentorship for ex-offenders struggling to reconnect with society. His son Jason gives them a second chance in the workforce.

“I’m going to be honest with you, Mr. Jimmy is like a dad to me. He’s that good to me,” Elder said. “He’s always there for me, and his son too, Jason Howard, that’s who we work for. If I didn’t have them, I’d be out there in the streets.”

Sine 2019, Jimmy said he has helped around 25 people, but it’s not cheap.

“For the first two years, this was totally self-funded,” Jimmy said. “I think we invested about $30,000 the first year. And then in 2020, we invested another $30 to $40 grand. And then in 2021, thanks to Jason’s help, we won our first grant.”

The nonprofit won its first grant by using GrantWatch.com, which helps teach people how to find and write grants.

“The big misconception -- a nonprofit looks at what they are doing and says nobody is going to fund us, but there are so many opportunities out there right now,” Libby Hikind, Founder of GrantWatch, said.

The grant is now allowing Jimmy to help more people like Martinez and Elder.

“I think what we are proving with this program is, well you know, we are close to the community,” Jimmy said. “We know what facilities are available so let’s do it ourselves at a grassroots level.”

“Noble Truth clients are some of my favorite employees because they are the most dedicated because they are so appreciative. They are so loyal,” Jason said. “They put their heart in the work. It’s not just a job for them.”

Martinez and Elder are both now sober. After four months of working, Elder is now a manager.

“I have a better life sober. I have a better life with Noble Truth,” Elder said.


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