Mile High Workshop helps people in need of a second chance

Inside the business of starting over. 9NEWS at 4 p.m. 9/12/16.

ENGLEWOOD - "We are really small. We are definitely in the startup phase."

Mile High Workshop is a humble business with a large reach.

"We ship so many camera accessories to Asia, you know Japan, that sort of thing. Europe,” Mile High Workshop Director Andy Magel explained. “And yeah, they get this cool little camera accessory and it's made right here in Denver."

The workshop sits just outside of Denver in Englewood, Colorado, where nearly 10 employees keep the shop going day in and day out.

"We do wood working, laser etching, sewing. We do some assembly and some packaging and distribution work," Magel said.

The employees at Mile High Workshop come from all walks of life, and every employee in the workshop has a story.

“The father of my kids was murdered,” former Mile High Workshop seamstress, Gina Vigil, explained. "Having something so tragic happen overnight…was kind of devastating.  So I started drinking a lot and I never dealt with the grief or loss of it so I developed a lot of anger issues and that's how I ended up in prison."

Vigil says she hurt someone very badly during an anger fueled fight. She was sentenced to 18 years in prison but was released after serving eight years.

She says her job search after prison was tough.

"They don't look at the person they've become of who they are now. They just look at that piece of paper and they’re like, no you are a bad person."

"We just don't think that's fair," Magel said. He came up with an idea to hire people whose pasts were affecting their abilities to build a future.

"I've had periods in my life when I didn't have a job. And there is this loss of dignity and purpose that can come from not working," Magel said. “And if you experience that for too long and you get enough doors shut in your face, you can give up and lose hope."

Magel employs and trains men and women recovering from addictions, coming out of homelessness and folks living with a criminal record.

Giving folks a second chance is the mission of Mile High Workshop.

"Every person has value," Magel said.  “It doesn't matter what you've done, you are still a valuable person.  And your life isn't over when you do something that gets you in some kind of trouble.  Like you continue to live and you continue to have value.  And we want to be able to speak in somebody's experience and help them discover that value and move forward with whatever that might be for them."

Workshop employees like Amy say working at Mile High Workshop is validating.

"They treat you like…a human being. They treat you with respect and just you come in and you feel welcome, you feel like you are part of this family that just so tight knit but so just willing to help each other."

“I don’t feel like I was just used and worked for the day you know … [I feel like] I got something accomplished, I made a difference,” says Angel Thornton, who has worked for Mile High Workshop for three months. “I didn’t just do eight hours on the clock.”

Earlier this year Mile High Workshop won the national REDF award.  MHW was the smallest social enterprise in the United States to receive the honor.  The REDF organization will provide Magel with consultation and funding for the next five years.

"The day that we found out that we were going to be brought into that cohort was a very good day,” chuckles Magel.

"I can make all kinds of analogies to our employees.  I feel like I have been on a similar path and somebody gave me a chance you know and somebody gave me an opportunity to live into my calling and who I felt like I could be so and I feel like I have been almost on the exact same path.

“To see that smile on Andy’s face makes a huge difference for me,” says Thornton.

Magel hopes to expand MHW locally and nationally with the $500,000 REDF grant.

Employees like Amy say companies like Mile High Workshop make a world of difference.

"I mean granted, you know I know the community and society are always going to have you know have their opinion and they have the right to their opinion,” she says.   “It's just nice to be able to come in here and not feel that sting and not feel that you know weighing on your shoulders every time you go to a job.”

And Gina Vigil says her time at Mile High Workshop made a positive impact on her life and her future.

“I can envision myself going even further now.”

Every employee of MHW has a different story but they each share one common theme, confidence.

"After being here and learning to believe in myself, I am going to be there,” says Thornton.  “Sooner than later." 

Copyright 2016 KUSA


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