MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For years, Marcel Hofker dreamed of attending college and playing the sport he loved. The married father and business owner grew up in St. Paul, with hockey providing connection, structure and community.
“I grew up in the suburbs as a Black and white person, you know, a mixed person, and instantly discovered I was different,” Hofker said. “I went by Marc because Marcel was too different. But hockey is what people do in North St. Paul, what people did in North St. Paul. So I played hockey and I loved hockey. It made me on equal footing with everybody else for that hour or two hours.”READ MORE: COVID In Minnesota: Total Positive Case Count Surpasses 1.5 Million
Hofker said his passion for hockey continued to grow, ultimately playing for Mahtomedi during his sophomore year of high school. An injury would later turn his college dream upside down.
“I missed my junior year. That’s when I discovered marijuana, painkillers, because they gave me a bunch of those,” Hofker said of his medical care. “I lost the structure of my sport, the locker room all that. Losing hockey was everything. My goal was college and further, that was my only plan. To lose your only plan, you’re just floating. You look for something to fill that hole.”
Hofker spent years struggling with addiction, both using and selling drugs. Efforts to change course came with challenges.
“I’d been to treatment nine to 10 times. I got sober and I maintained for about three years,” Hofker said. “I made a mistake that I see a lot of people do. I worked like three doubles a week. I was doing 65 hours a week. My recovery community got put to the wayside. My life became work and within three years I started to relapse.”
After numerous trips to jail, he received his first felony charge for first-degree sales in 2013. A judge sentenced Hofker to 58 months in prison, but he only served 10 months because of a prison bootcamp program. He said acceptance into the Challenge Incarceration Program would change his life.
“It helped me think before I spoke. I always just shot off the cuff. Having tom ‘Sir, permission to speak, sirm’ and then be quiet until you’re told you can – or not be told you can— that discipline is very powerful,” Hofker said. “Instant accountability for everything you do. One of their big mottos was if you make a mistake, pick up and move on. Don’t dwell on it. I’ve really put that into practice in my life.”
In 2020, Hofker completed all parole obligations. Since his release from prison, he has gotten married, expanded his family, re-built relationships and purchased his first home. He also launched Celo Staffing Services, now known as Strive Staffing.
“When I started it was me and a notepad, a lot of notepads,” Hofker said. “Since then, this year, we’ve grown to a staff of six. I’m paying real salaries. It’s amazing. I believe it’s a blessed endeavor. I keep having the doors open.”
The types of jobs available through Strive Staffing include stadium cleaners and banquet servers for large events. The company is also getting into union work and manufacturing.
Hofker has been able to provide second chances for others.READ MORE: Record Number Of Baby Bison Born At Minneopa State Park
“I’ve been able to hire almost 800 people in the last five years,” Hofker said. “Some people go and then they come back and I give them another chance. They go and come back. My goal is to be there when they finally get it.”
Eric Demay understands the value of opportunity.
“That he gave me the opportunity to work, and just having a chance, is what I have gratitude for,” Demay said. “When I was going through recovery myself, through alcoholism, I met him. I began working with him and just kind of went from there.”
Demay now serves as manager of operations for Strive Staffing and recently added a new title, landlord. He said he purchased a duplex and shared a message for others starting over.
“Starting over when you’re older can be very scary,” Demay said. “I did have a house, two cars and a white picket fence. After losing everything and starting with absolutely nothing – almost homeless — to what I have now is possible.”
More than 20 years after playing hockey for Tartan his senior year, Hofker reconnected with the sport he always loved.
“I started playing hockey with a group called Recovery Community Hockey. It’s a whole group of guys in recovery, and we go out and play hockey every week. It’s amazing,” Hofker said. “It’s something that was everything, so to finally have that back and to enjoy it and have fun out there is pretty amazing.”
When asked about the value of his current path, Hofker delivered these words.
“Drug money is empty. You spend it just as fast as you can get it. It’s almost like you don’t want it,” Hofker said. “Now, I’m doing things that are fulfilling. The side effect is that I get to make an income. I’m grateful that I get to do what I do. I’m grateful that people would even want to work for me. Strive doesn’t exist without the people that work for it.”
Hofker described his vision for the next five years.
“I want to see Strive nationwide. I want to see us pushing for higher union membership. I want to see us really coming in and giving staffing, temping, a different look. I think it should be more based on placements with purpose, inclusive opportunity. [It’s] more than just numbers,” Hofker said. “I don’t like to put people in places where they’re not going to grow. We deal with a lot of people in recovery, people that are justice-involved, [people] that are turning their lives around. Put them in the right place where they can be successful in that position. [In] five years, we’re going to spread that message.”MORE NEWS: Sheriff: Motorist Killed In Wright Co. After Hitting Dump Truck Head-On