Lauderhill Program Helps Ex-Cons Find New Opportunities Through Entrepreneurship

LAUDERHILL, Fla. – When a person is given the opportunity to open their own business, it can feel that a dream corresponds to an opportunity.

But for part of the population, they never get the chance because of a mistake in their past.

A new program is trying to change that story.

Miko Atkinson is about to open his own haunted kitchen, an entrepreneurial concept that would be a first for Lauderhill.

“We’ve been cornered in a location, we just got the city’s approval,” he said. “It’s not really food on the premises, but anyone can come there to pick up their orders, send in your Uber Eats, there will be locker systems where people can come and get their food and enter their code, and it’s all autonomous.”

It was not an easy journey for Atkinson to get to this point because of a previous prison term.

His record over a decade ago meant most opportunities were answered behind closed doors, until a brand new pilot program broke new ground.

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“By graduating RAN, we really get a chance to jump over some of those boundaries,” Atkinson said.

LIEP stands for Lauderhill Inclusive Entrepreneurship Program and is specifically aimed at city dwellers trying to distance themselves from their criminal past.

“They’re creating a pipeline of wealth for themselves, but secondly, these are all brand new businesses,” said Lauderhill Vice Mayor Melissa P. Dunn. “They’re going to hire people, they’re going to pay taxes, and I think that’s phenomenal.”

From technology and transportation companies to a nonprofit that helps abused children, LEAP turns smart ideas into real businesses.

Giovanni Sairras, who himself has been in those shoes before, acts as a success coach.

“Our motto is simply giving back to the communities we once took from,” he said.

Sairras now has its own return mentoring program.

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“If I can’t find the person I’m looking for then maybe I should be that person, maybe it’s time for me to lead by example, and that’s exactly what I did,” he said.

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