Photo:  Ben Vanderneck at the Digital Navigator's Thrive & Dine

Returning Citizens Get Digital Navigation Support

Posted on August 11, 2023 by Ben Vanderneck, CareerSource Suncoast
I was first inside a prison about ten years ago but was out in a few hours. I was there representing my employer, CareerSource Suncoast, for a presentation to inmates designed by Project 180, a fantastic local nonprofit that opened my eyes to how we can help returning citizens. Part of my work with CareerSource Suncoast also involves speaking with employers with immediate hiring needs. Many of these organizations are becoming more open-minded and aware of returning citizens eager for opportunities and new beginnings.

The closest prisons to the Sarasota area are in Hardee and DeSoto counties, housing inmates from all over the state. I've known people who have been incarcerated and others who have worked in corrections. I thought I had a well-rounded view of the criminal justice system, but certain things have to be experienced first-hand: the hard reality of hearing heavy doors shut behind you or the moment of human recognition in shaking an inmate's hand. Some inmates I spoke to were serving longer sentences for more severe crimes, so in effect, the world had passed them by. When it came to applying for jobs online, they had no idea where to begin and no computer to get started trying to learn.

While some inmates return to Sarasota after their release, I began facilitating job readiness classes at the Sarasota County Jail seven years ago to reach more returning citizens. There, inmates serve shorter sentences, so completing a profile on is less challenging than for inmates who have been incarcerated for much longer because they are familiar with the internet and computers. In addition to working closely with inmates on their individual job searches, I also work with larger groups inside the jail using an interactive whiteboard where I can demonstrate how to use in real time to search for jobs.

While the importance of a home internet subscription and a computer are critical, and inmates do grasp the need for these modern necessities, they will also face the costs of additional basic needs upon their release, such as housing and transportation.

I used to ask myself, Where does digital access fit into their budget, and how will they pay for it? The Patterson Foundation's Digital Navigator Program, an initiative that trained me to serve as a Digital Navigator through my work at CareerSource Suncoast, showed me how to link returning citizens with essential digital tools to succeed, including helping people apply for affordable home internet and obtaining a low-cost computer.

"Working with Ben was easy from the start," said Maribel Martinez, a consultant with The Patterson Foundation's Digital Navigator Program who trained Ben in digital navigation. "He takes great care in fostering community relationships, and because he is genuinely committed to solving the digital divide, combining his workforce skills with digital navigation responsibilities is a balance he seems to strike easily. I know Ben is strongly impacting returning citizens and their ability to work with 21st-century tools," added Martinez.

Combining CareerSource Suncoast's resources with my skills as a Digital Navigator offers returning citizens an opportunity to improve their lives, provide for their families, and more. Being a Digital Navigator also empowers me to strengthen our community by helping returning citizens succeed, and it all starts with going online. Digital Navigation allows me to make that possible for inmates, giving me access to tools I am very grateful for as my colleagues and I continue our work inside dense jail walls.

Click here to request a digital navigation appointment at CareerSource Suncoast or email Ben Vanderneck directly at

Comments (1)

  • Brian Arcuri

    Brian Arcuri

    16 August 2023 at 17:17 | #

    God bless Careersource SunCoast for all they do everyday.


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