A second chance

Kensington resident James D’Elia, eight months clean, got a job through RetroFit, a job portal specifically for those in recovery or with a criminal background.

Working hard: Kensington resident James D’Elia, eight months clean, got a job through RetroFit, a job portal specifically for those in recovery or with a criminal background. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

James D’Elia didn’t clock out of work until about an hour after his shift as a server at the Perkins at 1681 Grant Ave. was supposed to end. Someone else had called out of work, so he stuck around to continue serving customers with a genuine smile on his face. He sees his job as a blessing.

“They knew about my past and my criminal record, and they still gave me a chance,” the Kensington resident said. “They’ll work with anybody who’s willing to work on themselves.”

D’Elia is in long-term recovery from addiction, something he says having a steady job is vitally important to. He found his job through RetroFit, a job portal for individuals in recovery with a specific local focus.

D’Elia is four months into the job and eight months clean. He’s been in and out of recovery since 2015, spurred by things like trying to take “shortcuts” to recovery.

“I was doing the bare minimum,” he said of his time recovering in Florida. “I was still trying to do things my way and find little shortcuts, but I realized my way is never going to work. You need to be all in or all out.” He recalled his father used to tell him that he would want things, but would stop trying when he got what he wanted.

D’Elia volunteers at the Sarnelli House in Kensington, where he met someone who told him about RetroFit and connected him with Dan Schmalen, one of the creators. Within three days of creating a profile and applying on the site, he was interviewed and hired for the job.

“You have to be able to learn how to live life on life’s terms,” he said. “You have to have responsibilities and be somewhere you have to be every day to learn to be a productive member of society again.”

Taking care of people is D’Elia’s favorite part of the job – he said customers will even request him specifically when they return, and if they come in a bad mood he likes making them leave happy. The environment is also important – he was open and honest about his background during the job hiring process, and found the managers were more than willing to give him – and others employed at the location – a chance to prove themselves.

“If I get stressed out or something people will know what to do, asking if I need to pray or something, because they can relate to each other,” he said.

RetroFit was launched last year by Schmalen and Doug Kiker, longtime friends both in recovery who saw for themselves how difficult it could be to obtain a job. Applicants can post their resume and receive help for creating a profile.

The company will soon be awarded a grant from the city.

“I used to say I can’t live the way I want to live and stay sober,” D’Elia said. “That’s not true anymore. I love the way I live.”

Visit the site at RetroFitCareers.com.