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DOORS of opportunities: Formerly incarcerated Oak Ridge man creates non-profit to disrupt school-to-prison pipeline, offer affordable lawn care

Zachary Robinson created Dreams of Oak Ridge Students, or DOORS, after discovering a passion for education while incarcerated.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Zachary Robinson spends much of his time making sure his customers' lawns are picture-perfect, but not too long ago, his time outdoors was limited.

"I made a choice in my 12th grade year that led me to eight years in prison," he said.

Labeled as a troublemaker since childhood, at 18, Robinson ended up in prison.

"I absolutely believe if this program was around that that possibly could have been avoided," he added.

It's a program he created after discovering a passion for education while incarcerated. "I started pretty much looking at life different and seeing the importance of lifelong education," Robinson recalled.

The mission behind Dreams of Oak Ridge Students, or DOORS, is three-fold: disrupt school-to-prison pipelines, mitigate college tuition for at-risk students and provide affordable lawn care to those who need it.

Robinson earned an associate's degree while in prison and is now a student at UT's Haslam College of Business as a free man.

Through DOORS, Robinson employs high school students and offers mowing services at a "pay what you can" price. All funds are used for scholarships to help students get to college.

Oak Ridge High School senior Terrance Anthony is one of the participants.

"This is my first time learning mowing stuff," Anthony said. "I never mowed before until I came here, which is something that I probably needed to learn."

Thanks to the nonprofit, Anthony will be off to college this fall with a $2,500 scholarship in hand.

 "It will bring down some of the debt that I'll have some of the tuition, which would be extremely helpful for me and my family," Anthony added.

Robinson hopes to use his own experiences to open up doors of opportunities for the next generation and lead by example.

"Basically avoid the life story that I had lived," Robinson said. "Tomorrow's a new day. Whatever happened yesterday is yesterday. Leave it alone and push forward."


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