When Jeopardy host Alex Trebek died of pancreatic cancer last year, he left behind not only legions of grieving fans but 300 neckties, 58 dress shirts, 25 polo shirts, 15 belts, 14 suits and nine sport coats. All of these items were recently donated by his son, Matthew Trebek, to an organization called The Doe Fund in New York City dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated men and men experiencing homelessness with housing and job training.
The Doe Fund’s “Ready Willing and Able” initiative is a 12 month paid residential program that provides participants with social services, education, job training, and sobriety support. This holistic approach pairs the men involved with case managers who help them set goals toward either education or occupational training. All those in the program are enrolled in evening classes on parenting, financial management, computer skills, and general education classes. After the first month, the “Men in Blue” (so known because of their bright blue uniforms) begin working off site and learning skills necessary for reentering community and the workforce.
During the third phase of the program, participants choose an occupational track and receive training that culminates in either a certificate or professional license and help preparing for job interviews. As they near completion of their time with The Doe Fund, the Men in Blue work with career coaches and housing specialists to secure a job and a place to live, which are required for graduation in the program. Since 1990, more than 7,200 men have graduated from the Ready Willing and Able program and 78% of those are still employed at their new job after 6 months. The Doe Fund has helped over 28,000 men in a variety of ways over its history.
The donation of Alex Trebek’s suits have been a boon for the organization that has given them to men who are in the process of seeking employment. There are plans to award most of the 300 neckties to graduates of the Ready Willing and Able program as they begin their new jobs. Those who have already received a suit or tie have found the gifts to be “real confidence boosters” as they rebuild their lives. Being back in the workforce is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and imprisonment.
Matthew Trebek became involved with The Doe Fund through the three restaurants he owns in Harlem with his business partner. Those enrolled in the culinary track of Ready Willing and Able were invited there for free meals and training with the restaurants’ chefs. It is relationship Trebek hopes to resume after COVID. The Doe Fund runs other work programs in Colorado, Philadelphia, Georgia, and Washington DC.
For more information about The Doe Fund and ways to support their work, check out their website.
To learn more about the challenges of life after imprisonment, watch the films and read the study guides available in Movies to End Mass Incarceration.
The CCDA provides information on ending mass incarceration and helping those returning to community here.
The Washington Post’s coverage of the donation of Alex Trebek’s suits to The Doe Fund can be found here.