By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Roughly 50 to 75 percent of ex-offenders in Philadelphia remain unemployed up to a year after their release. A North Philadelphia non-profit is working with the toughest of the group to employ the youth.

Getting a job is no easy task, but it can be especially hard when you are young and have a troubled past.

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“I was a juvenile delinquent, as well as in DHS,” says 21-year-old, Nija Briscoe.

According to Nija, the past several months of her life have been spent working to get her life back on track, by getting housing and enrolling in services.  On Wednesday she took yet another step when she attended the Face Forward job fair on West Allegheny Avenue, applying for jobs and meeting employers.

“I already got one yes for Target Mobile,” she said. “I have high hopes that I will get plenty of more yes’s!”

“We assist with everything from transportation, housing treatment, therapy, clothing,” says Ronnie Dawson, program director for Face Forward Youth Program.

The program comes thanks to a three-year, one million dollar grant from the US Department of Labor. The goal is help youth age 16 to 25 who have seen the inside of a courtroom or prison.

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“If you don’t get them at this age, they never get the full grasp of what they can become,” Dawson said. “Instead they’ll stick with what they are used to and become adult offenders.”

Roughly a quarter of those with criminal pasts in Philadelphia are under the age of 25, but statistics show that if you get those young people into the workforce early on recidivism can be reduced by more than 70 percent.

For Trekwon Pinkett, the adjustment is for the better. Wearing a brand new tie for his interview, Pinkett is one of the 160 kids enrolled in Face Forward. His future was once dimmed by the lure of the streets, but now it shines bright once again.

“I want to better myself and go out there and go get it,” Pinkett said. “And not be like everybody else getting locked up.”

Pinkett’s dream is to own a construction company.  Step one is to land a job at Home Depot.

“It’s all about the vibe you give them, it’s all in God’s hands,” he says, hopeful.

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