Against the Odds: Towards Employment alums to share their stories at A Chance to Advance fundraiser

Ronnie Cannon, Courtesy of Towards Employment
Ronnie Cannon, Courtesy of Towards Employment

For Ronnie Cannon, the work he does as senior manager of community engagement at Towards Employment is personal.

He was an average kid but made some of bad decisions. Cannon was only 16 years old when he was arrested for murder. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to Trumbull Correctional Institution in Leavittsburg.

After serving nearly 20 years, Cannon was released and ready to begin his new life.

Although Cannon made a poor decision as a teenager, in prison he made decisions that would positively change the trajectory of his life—including earning his associate’s degree in business administration. Yet he knew he would still need help finding meaningful employment when he was released.

“The week that I got out of prison, I went to church,” recalls Cannon. “One of my fellow church members was a volunteer with Towards Employment and told me they help individuals who have done time find a job.”

Cannon had seen Towards Employment listed in the re-entry guide he received when he was released. ”I never really had a 9-to-5 job,” he explains. “I had a couple of summer jobs, but that was the extent of my work experience. So I did a little more research, then called Towards Employment and scheduled a meeting.”

A Chance to Advance
A Chance to Advance
Dominick Farinacci
Dominick Farinacci

Cannon will tell his full story at Towards Employment’s annual A Chance to Advance fundraiser this Friday, June 14 at Maltz Performing Arts Center.

For more than 40 years, Towards Employment, a non-profit workforce development agency serving adults aged 18 and older live live in Cuyahoga County, has championed the potential of every person—regardless of their background—and prepared them to navigate the obstacles to obtaining meaningful employment.

Individuals receive job readiness training, skill development, options for technical training, work experience, and assistance with job placement, as well as intensive case management, support services and post-employment coaching for up to two years.

Nearly 12 years after joining Towards Employment, Cannon remembers his initial training well. “I went through a four-week job readiness program that helped me with basic soft skills,” he recalls. “After completing the program, I started volunteering at Towards Employment while doing my job search. Then I was offered a part-time job as the front-desk receptionist [there].”

After working as the receptionist, Cannon then became a program aide, a case manager, and eventually moved into the community engagement department.

“Today I am proud to be the senior manager of  community engagement at Towards Employment, and I am helping others achieve their goals,” he says, adding that he also works with organization’s network of more than 300 employer partners.

“Sometimes employers have questions or apprehension about hiring people who have never worked before, like young adults or people with criminal backgrounds,” says Cannon, “so I am a resource for them.”

A Chance to Advance
Cannon’s story is just one example of what drives the Towards Employment staff to fulfill the organization’s mission to fuel career success while helping create an equitable and inclusive workforce. The agency does so by providing skills development for in demand jobs, comprehensive support, extended career coaching, direct connections to employers, and advocating for more equitable paths to opportunity.

All proceeds from Towards Employment’s A Chance to Advance fundraiser go to coaching, case management, technical training, career matching, and other support programs.

The event will feature a musical event with world-class trumpeter Dominick Farinacci. Since 2016, Farinacci has partnered with U.S. Army veteran James Poling to create Modern Warrior Live—a theatrical experience that mixes first-person narratives with music and multimedia to chronicle the veteran deployment experience and subsequent transition back home.

This year, with a grant from the Char and Chuck Fowler Family Foundation, Farinacci will partner with three Towards Employment alumni who will share their stories of personal transformation.

The three alumni include Cannon, as well LaTonya Cliff and Tracy Patton.

Today, Cannon is a respected member of the Cleveland community. He is a father and a Toward Employment colleague who sits on several non-profit boards and serves on citywide initiatives. He is committed to making sure fellow Clevelanders know they are greater than their worst action. His experience as a young man continues to shape his actions, to the benefit of many.

Cliff is a case manager at Towards Employment—working with young men and women, hoping that they can learn from their experiences and find the strength and connections needed to build a career. She knows firsthand how trauma, violence and abuse can lead to bad decisions and chaos. As she listens to the stories of younger participants and graduates of Towards Employment, her life and career journey provide a foundation she uses to provide counsel, understanding, and inspiration.

Patton struggled with a lifetime of addiction. Her experiences battling addiction and returning from incarceration fuel her commitment to community and to other women struggling with addiction. Tracy went through Towards Employment in 2012 and started a career pathway in hospitality. After five years, she found her way to providing direct assistance to women addressing mental health and dependency. She is currently a substance use disorder counselor, a quality mental health specialist, a smoking cessation specialist, and the founder of the organization Survived To Live For Women In Recovery.

A night to remember

Cannon, Cliff, and Patton will share their full success stories at the event, which will be paired with a jazz fusion performance that focuses around the pain, challenges, and individual triumphs that the three faced during their reentry experiences.

“Your background doesn't have to define your future,” explains Cannon. “There are definitely going to be some obstacles and challenges along the way, but perseverance is the key. You will get ‘no’ [many times] before you get a ‘yes.’ While you are waiting for that ‘yes,’ you have to always be looking to improve yourself and leverage the talent that you have.”

Tickets to A Chance to Advance on Friday, June 14 at the Maltz Performing Arts Center are $75 for general admission; $125 for VIP guests and include parking, food, and access to pre-event activities.

Additionally, guests can purchase a $50 ticket for a California Dreaming raffle Napa Valley dream vacation that includes a three-night stay at The Meritage Resort and Spa, a visit to Jessup Cellars’ Napa valley tasting room and art gallery, a train ride through historic Napa with a multi-course gourmet lunch, and a hot air balloon ride at sunset over the Valley. Airfare is included and the winner does not need to be present to win.

The outdoor pre-event begins at 4 p.m. with the Cleveland Career Champion Festival. Attendees can meet staff, look at the raffle prizes, and enjoy snacks and beverages.  Doors open at 5:30 p.m., with the performance beginning at 6 p.m. at the Maltz Center, which is located at 1855 Ansel Road on the Case Western Reserve University campus.

Cannon says that the work done at Towards Employment is worth the support.

“If someone is looking to support their community, this is a wonderful way of doing it,” he says.  “We all know for a young adult that meaningful employment can change a life. The benefit has a ripple effect and goes far beyond just helping someone get a job. Employers have better prepared workers. Workers have more economic mobility. And the whole community is stronger as a result.”