MAITLAND, Fla. – Kevin Gay, CEO and founder of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Operation New Hope, has been selected to receive The Florida Bar Foundation’s 2016 Medal of Honor Award, the Foundation’s highest award, in the non-lawyer category.
A Jacksonville native, Gay left the corporate world and founded Operation New Hope in 1999 to help rebuild Jacksonville’s challenged urban communities and give ex-offenders the opportunity to successfully transition home and lead productive lives.
“Kevin has demonstrated both great commitment and success in providing aid to those in our legal system who need it the most,” said Wm. J. Sheppard, who nominated Gay and who was the recipient of the Foundation’s 2004 Medal of Honor Award in the lawyer category.
Operation New Hope is a faith-based nonprofit community development corporation with a two-pronged business model that includes the development of affordable housing and workforce development focuses on the reintegration of ex-offenders. In 2003, President George W. Bush selected Operation New Hope as the pilot site for the Ready4Work program, a prisoner reentry program that has since been introduced in 16 U.S. cities and has been hailed by former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama.
Participants attend a comprehensive four- to six-week career development training course featuring employment and life skills and are partnered with a case manager, who provides guidance and support, referrals for community assistance, life coaching and follow-up drug screening. While recidivism rates are nearly 70 percent within three years nationally, Jacksonville’s Ready4Work program has a recidivism rate of less than 35 percent. Meanwhile, it has a 70-percent retention rate in its workforce programs, which involve partnerships with more than 300 businesses in Jacksonville and the surrounding area.
Operation New Hope has helped more than 3,700 ex-offenders reenter their communities and workforce and has indirectly served their 7,200 children. The organization’s Breaking the Cycle program provides training, counseling and support for the family members of those who have been incarcerated. And in just over a decade Operation New Hope has restored or built close to 80 homes in the urban neighborhoods of Historic Springfield and East Jacksonville.
Gay is also a founding member of Reconcile Jacksonville, an organization promoting interracial community interactions, and has served on many community boards, including that of HabiJax, one of the largest Habitat for Humanity affiliates. He has received numerous awards, including the Neighborhoods USA Notables Award, the Jacksonville Business Journal’s Ultimate CEO Award, and most recently, the OneJax Humanitarian Award for 2016. He has served on the Florida Department of Corrections Prisoner Re-Entry Advisory Board, on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and on the transition teams for Jacksonville mayors Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry.
“As a Jacksonville native and influential community leader, Kevin serves with a genuine spirit of compassion for our city and people,” Mayor Curry wrote in his support letter for Gay’s nomination. “Since 1999, his vision, leadership and efforts through Operation New Hope have been an inspiration, not only here on the First Coast, but also across the nation.”
The Medal of Honor Award in the non-lawyer category recognizes an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to improving the administration of justice.
“I am very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to advocate for justice for those coming home from jails and prisons. So to receive this award from The Florida Bar Foundation is a tremendous honor. It is also very humbling when I think of my many heroes in the legal community who use their incredible talents, time and resources to ensure justice for so many around our great state,” Gay said.
The Medal of Honor Award, sponsored by Florida Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company, will be presented at The Florida Bar Foundation’s 40th Annual Reception and Dinner June 16 at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.