DIFFERENCE MAKERS: A Second Chance for Ex-Felons

Posted at 5:13 AM, Jan 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-01 07:47:36-05

TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) - Most agree that everyone deserves a second chance.

Rebecca Kelly-Manders says that includes ex-felons.

What better way to start off on the right foot then cooking in a kitchen?

On the menu at Hope Community Center in Tallahassee; baked zettie and burgers, cooked to order.

"You have to live with it for the rest of your life," said Marcus Ferrell.

Marcus Ferrell was sentenced to four months for identificiation fraud.

After his release, Ferrell, a single dad of three, applied for 10 jobs and had 6 interviews.

"I have a felony on my background and they couldn't hire me," said Ferrell.

With three mouths to feed, he enrolled in REfire, a culinary training program for people with felony convictions.

"REfire is a kitchen term. It means to correct a mistake. So we're getting these individuals through the program, giving them the skills to allow them to correct the mistakes they make with their lives and move forward in a different direction so we can break the cycle of recidivism," said Rebecca Kelly-Manders.

Rebecca Kelly-Manders, who also goes by Chef Rebecca, founded REfire with Big Bend Homeless Coalition.

It's a grassroots program, completely funded by donations. It's at no cost to the students.

Students are placed by Career Source.

"Everybody has made a mistake," said Chef Rebecca.

"This accepted me for who I was regardless of the background," said Reginald Smith, REFire Student.

Reginald Smith is part of the first group to go through the pilot class.

He's learned a lot from Chef Rebecca about working in a kitchen.

"Food safety and technique," said Smith.

People also seem to really like the food.

Chef Rebecca runs a tight ship.

It's an 8-week-long program, students come four times a week and serve three meals a day.

"I know that the kitchen is one of the most forgiving places," said Chef Rebecca.

She's experienced first-hand how hard it is to get a job with a felony on your record.

"I've been clean and sober for 20 years now and I wouldn't make those same decisions today, but I still have to answer to them," said Chef Rebecca.

She says it costs her less to teach 20 individuals over an 8-week course than it does to house one individual in a prison for one year.

"It's better for our tax dollars to not spend on housing individuals in prison and it's better we have more contributing members of our society," Chef Recca said.

She says she alone can't fix the criminal justice system, but she can help students to succeed and graduate from the REFire program so they can land a job.

"I'm just doing what is the right thing to do. I'm just incredibly proud of them," said Chef Rebecca.

Also proud of their dad, Marcus Perrell's three kids got to see him graduate.

"I'm very hopeful for the future. The skies the limit," said Perrell.

"Someone else can believe in me even when you don't believe in yourself," said Reginald Smith.

All four of Chef Rebecca's students graduated and the icing on the cake is they now have jobs.

"We need to allow them to refire their lives, correct that mistake and move forward and be the best person we know we can be," said Chef Rebecca.

That's what makes Rebecca Kelly-Manders January's Difference Maker.

REFire is not grant-funded and runs solely from donations. If you would like to donate HERE ARE THE LINKS:

If you know someone making a difference in our community, we are looking for nominations for February. Send us an email to

MOBILE USERS: Download our WTXL news app on your Apple and Android devices for the latest from South Georgia and North Florida. Also, download our WTXL First Alert Weather app for Apple and Android devices to get the latest local weather wherever you go. 

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for additional local news and hourly updates.