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Kevin T. Gay is the Founder of Operation New Hope and led the organization as CEO from 1999-2022. Under Kevin’s 23 years of stewardship, Operation New Hope helped more than 10,000 individuals impacted by the criminal justice system successfully reconnect to the workforce, their families, and their communities. Kevin put Jacksonville on the national stage for leading the movement in reentry and criminal justice reform. Kevin’s impact is evident in the transformation stories of clients, enhanced hiring practices for employers, healthier communities and families, and increased public safety.
Kevin T. Gay is a native of Jacksonville, FL and a graduate of the University of Florida. He left corporate America in 1999 and founded Operation New Hope to create a new model for community development. He felt that while there were many houses in many urban communities in need of major restoration there were also many people broken and in need of Hope once again. Thus, Operation New Hope was born to bring Hope in the form of new housing, new skills leading to new jobs and a revitalized community. In June of 2002, Kevin was invited to meet with President George W. Bush and Secretary of labor Elain Chao. This meeting led to ONH being selected by the White House to develop the first national model for Prisoner Re entry called Ready4Work. This employment-based re-entry model was then introduced in 16 other cities around the country. Ready4Work Jacksonville has gained national attention because of its impact in reducing recidivism.
He is a founding member of Reconcile Jacksonville, which has been responsible for partnering over forty black and white churches since 1992. In 2003, the City of Jacksonville nominated Kevin for a national award through Neighborhoods USA (NUSA) and on May 22, 2003 he and nine others from around the country received the prestigious NUSA Notables Award. Previous winners are Willard Scott of the Today Show and distinguished television personality Ms. Oprah Winfrey.
Kevin has served on numerous community boards including HabiJax, one of the nation’s largest Habitat for Humanity affiliates, Gateway Community Services and the Florida Alliance of Community Development Corporations (the “FLACDC). He served on the management committee for the Jacksonville Community Council, Inc. study called “Neighborhoods on the Tipping Point.” He was asked by the Jacksonville Sherriff’s office to be on the management team of a study to address violence called “Reducing the Violence: A Community Response.” Kevin served on Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil’s Prisoner Re-entry Advisory Board for the State of Florida, is currently serving as Chairman on the Kids Hope Alliance, and in 2021 was selected to serve on the Florida Bar Citizens Advisory Commission.
In October of 2007, President Bill Clinton cited Kevin for his work in prisoner re-entry in his book called “Giving- How Each of Us Can Change the World”. Kevin was invited by President Bush in 2008 to join him at the White House in the signing of the “Second Chance Act”. During the Presidential Campaign in July of 2008, President Barack Obama mentioned the Ready4Work re entry program in a national speech on religion. Kevin is a contributor on several publications on re-entry including: Governor Bush’s Ex-Offender Task Force Report in 2006, as well as on several publications through Forbes Magazine and the Council of State Governments-Justice Council on re-entry.
Kevin served on President Elect Barack-Obama’s Advisory Council for the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships during the transition in 2009 and 2010. Kevin also served on the transition teams for Jacksonville Mayor’s Alvin Brown in 2011 and on Mayor Lenny Curry’s in 2015.
In 2013, Kevin was the only CEO from a non-profit organization to be honored by the Jacksonville Business Journal with the Ultimate CEO Award. Kevin is a graduate of the Leadership Jacksonville Class of 2015.
Kevin, along CNN’s Van Jones, co-hosted Operation Reform in Jacksonville in November 2015. Operation Reform was a national bipartisan summit on criminal justice reform and reentry solutions. It was the largest gathering of thought-leaders: government officials, re-entry providers, media. The event was sponsored by the Ford Foundation.
In 2016, Kevin received the OneJax Humanitarian Award sponsored by The University of North Florida and he received the Medal of Honor Award from the Florida Bar Foundation. This award is the highest honor awarded to a non-lawyer in the state of Florida.
In 2018, Kevin was invited to the White House on two occasions to discuss his work in re-entry and criminal justice reform. The last visit being the White House Summit on Prisoner re-entry held on May 18, 2018. In addition, Secretary of HUD Ben Carson visited Operation New Hope and called it “the best re-entry program he has seen in all of his travels around the country”. This is now the fourth Presidential administration that Kevin has been connected with during his twenty years of working on these important social issues.
Internationally, the Ready4Work program has been recognized by the House of Mandela as a model program for the world. In July 2019, Dr. Makaziwe Mandela, eldest daughter of Nelson Mandela, and her daughter Tukwini visited Jacksonville to celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day and honor social justice leaders. Kevin was honored with the House of Mandela Reflecting Freedom Award for Community Impact. One week later, Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump toured Operation New Hope and participated in a roundtable discussion that included state & local dignitaries. The Ready4Work program was praised by Vice President Pence saying it is a “model program not only in Florida but for the United States.”