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After prison stint, ex DA now leading North Philly vocational training center

RADIO.COM logo RADIO.COM 4/7/2021 Cherri Gregg
R. Seth Williams et al. standing in a room: Former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is the new program director for the Herbert J. Hoelter Vocational Training Center in North Philly. © Provided by RADIO.COM Former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is the new program director for the Herbert J. Hoelter Vocational Training Center in North Philly.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Seth Williams wants to be the poster child for second chances.

The former Philadelphia district attorney is the new program director for the Herbert J. Hoelter Vocational Training Center, located at Eighth Street and Girard Avenue.

He was hired by the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA) to run the Philadelphia program after serving three years in federal prison. Williams resigned from his political office after pleading guilty to bribery in 2017. While in prison, he taught GED courses and provided support for those on suicide watch.

He was released from prison last April.

“I thought I did a lot as a DA. I was really proud of my staff,” he said, “but it really took me being in jail to see people as more than just the case or the defendant number, but really as three-dimensional people.”

The 5,000-square-foot vocational center will provide people with job readiness and vocational training. Participants can earn low-level certifications after 15 weeks. There are currently training classes for HVAC and the culinary arts, with plans to expand offerings to CDL (commercial driver’s license), automotive, and drone training in the near future.

Williams said its focus will be on helping homeless veterans, the formerly incarcerated and others who have had a setback because of addictions or other life traumas.

“The outside have to care about people who are incarcerated to reach in and help them,” said John Wetzel, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, at the center’s grand opening on Wednesday. “This is an opportunity to give people a second chance.”

The program is funded by a $2.8 million Truist Foundation Grant, which helped NCIA open centers in multiple cities, including Baltimore, Maryland, and Raleigh, North Carolina. The group also received a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Services, which will help keep the cost to participants free.

DHS Secretary Teresa Miller said programs like these prevent crime and get people off of public assistance.

“I love when I get to speak with people we serve,” she added. “They want to create a better life for themselves and their families.”

Philadelphia has seen a sharp uptick in gun violence in the past year. In 2020, 499 people were killed, and the city experienced more than 2,200 shootings. The number of homicides in 2021 is already at 125, and there have been hundreds of shootings.

Williams hopes job training programs like this one at the Hoelter center will help prevent crime.

“If you identify those most likely to shoot and those most likely to be shot, the intersection is at about 70%,” said Williams. “We want to identify those people and give them hope, but we are not the solution to everything.”

People interested in participating in training classes can call 267-225-1115 or email seth.williams@ncianet.org.

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