Houston businessman gives back by employee at-risk teens, ex-cons

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- If you wanted to make America a better place where would you invest your resources? A Houston businessman is campaigning on two very different fronts in his effort to get Americans working.

Larry Keast spent 35 years building his power swivel business, Venturetech. And he did it by hiring some unlikely employees.

"Well I hired Jim Strickland when he was 70," Keast said. "That was 16 years ago and now he's 86. He's in our engineering department right now and he loves what he's doing."

What Keast loves doing is investing in people many think aren't such a good bet. At times ex-cons have made-up 20-30 percent of Keast's staff, and he founded America in Recovery to encourage other business owners to follow his example.

"We don't win them all, but the turnover has been no higher with the ex-cons than it's been with the ordinary people, Keast said, "it's been a good success story."

But now Keast is tackling employment from another angle -- investing in at risk youth. He's donating $50,000 of his own money and hopes to raise another $200,000 to hand out next year to kids in seven school districts.

Keast says, "This is about jobs and how can we keep at -risk kids from going into prison-- from becoming ex- offenders that's the whole idea."

Robert E. Lee senior Samantha Gonzales has worked two jobs helping support her family with four younger siblings. Yet she still managed to be accepted at Baylor and Texas A&M. The scholarship from America in Recovery was her first.

"It kind of gave me the confidence that I knew that somebody noticed the things that I was achieving," said Gonzales.

Keast isn't just reaching out to kids with top-tier university caliber grades; he's also giving scholarships to kids who want to go to trade schools. He's investing in his belief that hundreds of area students deserve a shot at rewriting their future.

If you'd like to donate to America in Recovery, visit www.americainrecovery.org.
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