Clear Skies Ranch, based in Winnetka, is a sober-living transitional housing program that gives formerly incarcerated individuals opportunities to build their skills so they can transition back into the community and the workforce. We sat down with founder Gabrielle Melville to celebrate her business's new status as an EmployABILITY Champion and learn what that means to her.
How did you start your business?
Well, it’s been a roundabout journey! I had experience working with animals; at one point, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I also knew someone close to me who had substance abuse disorder. I watched that person struggle to find their way after being released from prison, and I just wanted to help. I had this property and thought that it would be a great place for a sober living community. So, my love of animals and my desire to help others combined and grew into Clear Skies Ranch where people coming out of prison can find a safe, nurturing environment that will help them learn skills that will help them reintegrate into society. We now include training in construction skills along with the animal care skills.
How do you plan to use EmployABILITY Grant funds?
We’ve already started using them! We have a 12-week training program for individuals with disabilities coming out of prison. The program teaches skills in the construction and maintenance fields – we’re working on building tiny homes from the ground up right now – and skills in animal care. We also make sure everyone has the general certifications they need for employment, like CPR and OSHA10. The goal is to give the participants work experience that will help them integrate back into the community and the workforce.
What does the future look like for your business?
The future looks like being able to help even more people. We want to build a network of businesses in the community who are willing to hire the graduates of our training program. We want to make a real difference in the lives of formerly incarcerated people and in the community. The next big goal is to buy an apartment building to provide intermediate housing for the people who’ve gone through our training. It’s difficult for people coming out of prison to find affordable housing. Of course, we’ll keep the ranch going too. I just want to give as many people as possible an opportunity to find a job and get a second chance.
What does it mean to you to be an EmployABILITY Champion?
EmployABILITY is definitely happening here! We’re going to use this grant to have as much impact as we can. These funds have given us the opportunity to help formerly incarcerated people with disabilities integrate back into society.
For more information on Clear Skies Ranch, visit their Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/clearskiesranch/?hl=en.