At first glance, the large warehouse at 18805 80th Place S. in Kent looks like any other industrial building: a high-roofed metal shell full of stacked boxes, forklifts and an assembly line.
But since Pioneer Distribution Services moved into the space in January, the warehouse has become more than just that — now it’s a venue for second chances.
Take Lacie Parrino, for example. Parrino, 49, started working for Pioneer Distribution more than 10 years ago, as part of a work-release program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women near Gig Harbor.
PDS hired her straight out of prison, and Parrino’s been with the company ever since. Now she works as customer-service supervisor at the distribution center.
“My life began at 40,” she said Monday during a break from work, giving credit to Pioneer for helping her start over upon her release from prison.
Parrino’s story dovetails neatly with the goals of the nonprofit entity.
The company makes a point of hiring employees who might not get a second glance from mainstream employers — convicts coming out of prison, former drug and alcohol addicts, and immigrants speaking little to no English.
Pioneer Distribution Services also helps fund an array of social services aimed at helping those same groups of people.
It can offer those benefits through its parent organization, Pioneer Human Services, a self-funded nonprofit organization headquartered in Seattle.
Pioneer Human Services operates transitional and permanent low-income housing facilities in Seattle and Tacoma, as well as offering treatment for chemical dependency and mental-health problems, job training and community re-entry services.
Through Pioneer Enterprises — another branch through PHS which includes the distribution center and several other business ventures — the organization provides its clientele a way to get back on their own feet, earn money and learn marketable job skills.
Pioneer Distribution Services employs full-time and temporary workers to move and package shipments of goods such as Nintendo Wii zappers, “Jiggly Gem” science kits and Northwave sports gear.
The number of employees varies seasonally from about 70, at present, to more than 200 during the Christmas sales rush, according to David Lawson, director of Pioneer Distribution Services.
“Part of getting them back into society is getting them to work eight hours a day (and) show up on time,” Lawson said. “If (someone) shows improvement here, we can offer them other opportunities.”
Lawson led a tour of the facility for city officials and residents during an open house March 19.
At the distribution center, Pioneer offers mainly entry-level posts, but the organization also operates more specialized businesses: a sheet-metal manufacturing business, a construction company, a wholesale food-distribution service, and catering and café businesses.
Employees who excel in the Kent facility often go on to higher-level jobs at one of Pioneer’s other businesses.
Sometimes, all people need is the chance to turn over a new leaf, and show that they’ve changed.
Sunny Sweet, Parrino’s office assistant, has firsthand knowledge about that.
“It made a huge difference to be treated as a person, and to be taken at face value and given a chance,” said Sweet, 38, who started working for Pioneer Distribution four months ago as part of a work-release program.
Sweet is currently living in a Pioneer-owned transitional housing complex in Seattle. That, too, made a big difference for her, she said, since many apartment managers won’t take in an ex-convict. She said she’s relishing having her own place for the first time in her life.
“Pioneer has made a big difference for me; I would have had a much harder time otherwise,” she said, adding that, at Pioneer, “people don’t judge me based on my criminal record. They’re looking at what I do every day, … and that’s what they judge me on, not my past mistakes.”
Parrino seconded that sentiment. “I like our mission,” she said. “It’s all about helping someone.”
Contact Christine Shultz at 253-872-6600, ext. 5056, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.