SALT LAKE CITY — Three years ago, two businessmen eating in a Los Angeles restaurant came up with an idea to start a residential program that would help homeless people, chronic criminal offenders and substance abusers learn life skills.
Later, at the airport, the two split up to go through separate security lines, and one of them said, "I’ll see you on the other side."
That is how The Other Side Academy came about.
"Community is the key to healing. No matter how broken you are … the key is always community. It is always connection," Joseph Grenny, the nonprofit’s chairman, said Thursday as he explained The Other Side Academy’s origins during a ribbon-cutting celebration for its new expansion.
The nonprofit recently purchased an apartment building at 35 S. 700 East in Salt Lake City that will add more than 100 beds and double its capacity.
"This is the beginning of better days for thousands in Utah," Grenny said.
Forty percent of the funding for the property came from donors, and Ally Bank financed the rest through a Community Reinvestment Loan, according to Other Side Academy CEO Tim Stay.
“There is one additional aspect of this loan that is unique to our model. Rather than having the loan paid for by donors, it will be paid for by the efforts of the very students who will be benefiting from the additional housing," Grenny said.
"The students run training companies at The Other Side Academy that generate revenue to repay the loan, while learning vocational and life skills key to their futures," he explained.
The Other Side Academy is privately run on self-sustaining funds. It is free to students, who are asked for a two-year commitment to the program, according to academy officials.
There, they learn life and job skills. They provide services including helping people move, working at a thrift boutique, or in construction, corporate development or food services, among other occupations.
In the 2 1/2 years since it started, the academy has helped 82 students. Nineteen students have already graduated from the program and found employment, according to the academy’s CEO.
Before buying the new building, the academy had capacity for 92 students.
Officials from The Other Side Academy have estimated the new beds will save taxpayers $300 million over the next 40 years, adding up what it would otherwise cost to incarcerate the students, Stay said.
"This is something that transcends politics and policy disputes that we have," said Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who spoke at the ceremony Thursday.
He said he has spent some time there, talking to students and graduates, and has seen a transformation in the students.
"We talk often about the Utah way," he explained. "We believe in redemption, we believe in second chances, we believe in self-reliance."
The Other Side Academy is giving people second chances "without the government’s oversight," Cox said.
He noted the Beehive State is learning that simply putting people in jail doesn’t solve the problem. The same issues exist when they get out, he explained.
The state can save money and not have to continue building larger prisons and jails if individuals receive the help they need, and the free market can provide ways to accomplish that, he said.
In February, The Other Side Academy received permission to tear down a dilapidated building at 46 S. 700 East. Demolition will begin next month, Stay said, and in about two years the academy will begin construction of a building that will house offices, computer labs and a training center for its students.
Originally, the academy planned to build housing at that location, but it would’ve taken several years to complete. The academy was already reaching capacity, and they didn’t want to turn away students, Stay said.
The Other Side Academy officials then reached out to the owner of the apartment building at 35 S. 700 East and discovered he was willing to sell, Stay explained.