Anew Nature, A New Life

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Anew Nature, A New Life

Anew Nature  interns carrying furniture and wood

Anew Nature interns carrying furniture and wood

Anew Nature interns carrying furniture and wood

Anew Nature interns carrying furniture and wood

Noah Brown, Managing Editor

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Torrence Breaux lost everything.

“I made a bunch of stupid decisions, following the wrong people, listening to the wrong crowd, trying to make fast money. I had a job, and would quit the job because it took too long to make the money I was making on the streets. I kept going back to the streets because that’s how I knew how to do, and it was easy to do it,” Breaux said. “It led me to get incarcerated to the point where I lost my family, I lost everything I owned in a matter of six months. I lost my house, my car, my fiance, and my kids, all because of one bad decision. I didn’t know what my next move was going to be.”

But, with the help of a local non-profit organization, Mission: St. Louis, Breaux connected with a small local furniture company intent on giving ex-felons like him a second lease on life.

Robert Karleskint, the founder of Anew Nature, does not run an ordinary furniture shop. Rather, in conjunction with Mission: St. Louis, Karleskint hires workers with past convictions, offering internship programs centered around teaching job skills in the furniture-building process.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been designing pieces of furniture and refinishing furniture to offer employment and a wide array of skills for interns going through our classes,” Karleskint said.

Furniture-building presents a unique opportunity for Karleskint and his team to teach their interns practical life skills.

“Furniture is unique in that, say you have a wooden top and a metal leg. It might take 30 different tools and five different skillsets to finish one piece of furniture,” Karleskint said. “By the end of our internship you learn enough tools to where you could build a house, you could do trim carpentry, you could paint a car, you could jump in a welding shop, and you could even do some landscaping with some of the tools that we use.”

In offering practical job training to their interns, Anew Nature serves as a bridge between the hardships of their past and the promise of the future.

“The last three years has been trying to equip each guy going through our class with enough skills so they could go out and get any construction job immediately, basically. If there’s an opening at a plumbing company, they can go. If there’s an opening at an autobody shop, they could go,” Karleskint said.

Travis McClure, a current Anew Nature intern and St. Louis native, recognizes, and is appreciative of the opportunity Karleskint and Anew Nature grant him to improve his future.

“I changed my work ethic. I value what they do here. I have learned skill sets I never thought I’d be able to learn or be doing in my life,” McClure said. “I appreciate the opportunity that they’re providing us, for giving us a second chance to better our lives and giving us the skillsets to go out and find a job.”

Karleskint’s earnest belief in second chances is what drives him to do the work that he does.

“[I came to the realization that] this is not right, there has to be a way that I can do something about this practically, that the guys going through the program with me aren’t needy, but they need help,” Karleskint said. “I am not biased if you have a felony. That’s just because of my own experiences in life. I think Anew Nature is important because I don’t care what you’ve done. I care about what you can do now. It’s only fair that we all get second chances.”

Graduating from Anew Nature’s job training program – which generally lasts about 6 months – is not the end of the road for interns.

“Once someone comes through the program, once they’re graduated, and they have all the skills I taught them, I call all the guys I used to work with, and I’m like ‘hey, are you hiring? A guy was just taught this, and he’s really, really good at this. I think he’d be a good fit for you right now.’ Really just personal networking is how I try to get guys jobs,” Karleskint said. “Because we’re so small, our goal is to hire guys and in the next 6 months, get them a really good job to continue after their internship.”

For Karleskint, the rewarding part of his work as the owner of a furniture shop has little to do with the furniture produced, and even less to do with the amount of profit earned. Instead, Karleskint finds meaning in the perspective he gains from working with his interns.

“The most gratifying thing has been just personal realization, that happened really early on, the fact that the biggest difference between me and the people I teach job skills to is the fact that I didn’t grow up under the circumstances that they did. I had different opportunities and different privileges,” Karleskint said. “I grew up pretty poor, I never would’ve considered myself privileged, but the obstacles that these guys have overcome are just insurmountable and they’re not like anything I’ve dealt with in my life.”

Another rewarding component of Karleskint’s work with interns extends far beyond the pieces of furniture they build together.

“Just forming relationships with the 60 or so guys I’ve trained has been awesome. It’s a community thing; we become friends, hang out, and get to know each other,” Karleskint said.

Derrick Perryman, a St. Louis native and current Anew Nature intern, expressed his greatest gratitude for being given the chance to redefine his future through Mission: St. Louis and Anew Nature.

“I thank people like Rob, and the whole Anew Nature team for the opportunity they’re providing us because a lot of people wouldn’t want to give an ex-felon a fair chance even though we’ve already paid our debt to society. We really just want to start over and live a productive life as a law-abiding citizen, and through Anew Nature and Mission: St. Louis, the opportunity has been afforded to us. This whole thing is a life-altering move and you’ve got to stick with it,” Perryman said.