Our History. Our Story: A Passion for Social Justice

Safer Foundation was founded by two friends and former Catholic priests, Raymond “Bernie” Curran and Gus Wilhelmy. In 1970, Curran and Wilhelmy were working at a company, the Portland Cement Association in Skokie, that used to train formerly incarcerated individuals to lay cement. When the men were released, they often quickly found jobs.

Curran, who oversaw Portland’s manpower development and training department and Wilhelmy, who had long history counseling men in prison, wanted to replicate that program to help more individuals being released from Cook County jail and other incarceration find work. So with their respective backgrounds and a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, the pair started “Operation DARE” (Direct Action for Rehabilitation and Employment of Ex-Offenders).

DARE found work in the construction industry for ex-offenders, but most of the clients had only a couple of years of high school at most and many functioned at a 4th or 5th grade reading level. They had no marketable skills and no job history. Curran and Wilhelmy left Portland Cement and in 1972 transformed Operation DARE into the Safer Foundation.

By 1973, Safer had several influential business executives on its board of directors and they helped the organization expand to a staff of more than 20 who served 2,000 ex-offenders with a budget of $300,000.

Safer Foundation Today

Today, Chicago-based Safer Foundation is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit social impact organizations focusing on Human Capital Development for People with Criminal Records. Safer serves 5,800 individuals each year in the Chicago metropolitan area, with regional reach in urban areas in the Quad Cities. Our core mission remains the same: helping people with records become employed, law-abiding members of the community.

A National Leader

Safer Foundation is a national leader in addressing the challenges and barriers to successful reentry. We are a go-to source for best practices in what works in the field of reentry, providing organizations across the country training and technical assistance on employment issues related to people with arrests and conviction criminal records.