‘All they want is a paycheck’: Burlington man set to launch program to employ felons

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BURLINGTON, N.C. -- With a recent uptick in violent crimes in Burlington, police have called on the community to help them develop a solution.

Michael Graves, president of Concerned Citizens of Alamance County, believes the best solution is to provide jobs to people who might otherwise turn to criminal activity to make ends meet.

"All they want is opportunities," Graves said. "And if you give them those opportunities, I know you will see crime go down."

Graves said he founded a landscaping company, AJM, Inc., that will begin operations July 1. He said AJM already has a corporate client and he hopes the company can also be contracted out on a private basis to citizens.

"This is something people don't have to have a college degree for," he said. "It'll get them into something so they can at least get a paycheck started."

Graves said AJM falls under the broader umbrella of a program called ACT -- Actively Changing Together.

He said, when fully funded, he hopes the program will expand to provide transitional housing to those coming out of jail, as well as funding for outside employers to hire men or women in the program. At present, Graves said ACT provides life skills training to men and women while they are in jail.

Quentin Sellars is one of the men who Graves said will participate in the landscaping company once it launches. Sellars said he used to sell drugs, but only because he couldn't get hired anywhere.

"The only reason I was doing that is because nobody would give me a chance," Sellars said. "No matter how hard I tried."

After spending two years in jail for drug charges, Sellars said he has been employed steadily for a year and it has turned his life around. From his experience, he said he's confident Graves's plan will work.

"I got a car, I got this, I got that," Sellars said. "I really can't complain."