Mari Borrero

Business owner gives formerly incarcerated second chance

MARI BORRERO - American Abatement and Demo

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Mari Borrero’s story is an incredible journey centered on giving back and helping the community. Her story starts in the military, serving in the US Marine Corps and the Army National Guard. Afterwards, Mari went to school to become a teacher. As a teacher, she taught many children whose parents were currently or formerly incarcerated. She noticed that not only were there few resources for teachers to better serve children with these backgrounds, her fellow teachers often didn’t know how they could help increase opportunity for these children and their families.

Mari even wrote a series of children’s books aimed at helping teachers like herself navigate these issues. But as she saw the struggle of the formerly incarcerated first hand, she looked to make concrete change in a different way. From there, the seeds of American Abatement and Demo were planted, centered on the mission to provide second chance employment.

We recently caught up with Mari to see how she’s been doing and to learn more about how ABC of Western Washington (ABCWW) has helped her increase access to opportunity for the formerly incarcerated.

When you set your eyes on construction, you were completely new to the industry. How did American Abatement and Demo become a reality?

We told ourselves that now we have to be a part of the solution. My husband was working in infrastructure previously and we decided to open our own abatement and demo. I took on all this responsibility with the hope of helping a couple of people – so that the formerly incarcerated had job opportunities to sustain their families, and that then trickles down back into our community. I just wanted to do my little part in the world, but it's kind of grown since then.

Through ABCWW, I’ve met some amazing people that have been mentoring me and supporting me throughout the whole process. I've gone through the ABCWW Construction Business School like three times, because every time I go through it, I'm learning something new and my business is in a different phase.

Now in your fourth year of business, you joined ABCWW two years ago. What convinced you to join?

My involvement started when ABCWW, in conjunction with the Economic Alliance, put together a class that I attended, and then I began building a relationship with Wendy. That first year of business, I was being personally attacked by the local union. They were trying to shut me down and keep me out of projects. I started reaching out to find resources on how I could navigate through this. ABCWW had an attorney that did an extensive how-to-respond and was such a great help. Every time I needed something, ABCWW was there. Anytime I've needed help facing situations that were threatening or invasive to my business, they have been my go-to resource.

If anybody knows anything about business, it takes a village. When it comes to legal questions and resources, they can provide you with that help. Also, the ABCWW Construction Business School has been such a great resource because it helps you with blueprints, it helps you with properly filling out the change orders so you're not footing the bill for stuff that you shouldn't be ­– I've even gotten accounting help from them. You name it, they bring it to the table.

Has ABCWW contributed to your success as a business?

ABCWW has absolutely helped me grow my business. With ABCWW and the training that I've gotten, I've been able to strategize with my business plan. I started with residential and I knew I wanted to get into the commercial market. Now I’m doing all commercial.

If I did not have ABCWW in my corner, I would have never gotten out of round one. I would have never made it. As a female and minority entrepreneur in the construction industry, that alone is difficult to navigate. But as long as I have ABCWW’s resources to help me fight whatever comes next, I can keep going.

I take everything that ABCWW offers. If there's something new, I'll say, ‘Wendy can I get in on that?’ Whether it’s Wendy or a sponsor in our community, someone's always made sure that I'm in a class, that I'm in there because I want to be in it. ABCWW made sure that not having the financial resources would not block me out or to become a barrier for anyone to have this access to this knowledge, resources and information.

What does it mean to be a second-chance employer?

I have 11 formerly incarcerated and two veterans employed. That's my squad. Those are the two groups of people that I feel like we need to help within our communities gain employment. Second-chance employment is very challenging to navigate. But if we want to successfully "transition" the formerly incarcerated into our community, then we have to. My company has been cited in the governor's reentry plan. Why? Because what we do is so crucial. And I know there's a lot of fear and stigma within the community, but they're just normal people who made a mistake 10 or 15 years ago. Whatever it was, they just made a mistake.

How have you seen your involvement change their lives?

Learning the skills that they did not have or unlearning what caused them to end up incarcerated is crucial. They really need mentors, they need support systems because it gets tough. When they first come out and they have to still report to their community corrections officer, sometimes those guys give them such a hard time – I’ve had one of my guys arrested for no literally no reason. I had to go fight for him. Once I did, he was released within 24 hours. But afterwards, he said, ‘For the first time in my life, someone was willing to fight for me.’

I have another employee, who was incarcerated when he was 15. He's been with me about 8 months now and he's learned so much – I even I put him through the ABCWW Construction Business School. He was so happy because now he's reading my bids and estimating and learning skills that he didn't have before. His life has changed. He just told me he wants to buy his first home. He was looking at it and I said, ‘You’re going to get it. Start claiming it, don’t let anybody tell you that it’s not going to be your house.’