By Jim Williams

CHICAGO (CBS)–Nearly 6,000 people in Illinois convicted of crimes had their records expunged last year.

Now, one Chicago-based group is working to get more ex-offenders a second chance.

CBS 2’s Jim Williams was at Chicago Police headquarters Tuesday, where dozens of young men and women began that process.

Those working with ex-offenders say they often lose their jobs when employers discover their criminal records, so dozens of men and women showed up to be fingerprinted and get a copy of their rap sheets–the first step in getting their records expunged or sealed.

The Reverend Anibal Vega, a pastor and veteran of the armed services, is now 45 years old. He had a misdemeanor conviction for assault when he was 19 before his record was expunged.

A group in Chicago is helping ex-offenders get a fresh start by clearing their past criminal records.

“It allowed me to join the military (to) serve our country,” Vega said. “It allowed me to finish as a veteran, allowed me to finish my degree, allowed me to get my master’s degree.”

Now he’s helping others do the same.

“It gave me an opportunity to give a lifting hand,” he said. ” Now I do that for everyone else as well.”

He was among a group of community leaders who brought dozens of men and women to Chicago Police Headquarters to get the documentation needed to proceed with sealing or expunging their records.

“So we can get them out of the shadows and get them up front and working without fear of losing a job because of a past convictions,” said Rev. Otis Monroe. “We want to help them get ahead of their past.”

J. Minor Allen was one of the many people at the police station hoping to get his record expunged.

“I had a possession of controlled substance offense,” he said.

He’s been working for years, he says, but his job search was hurt by his charge,

“I was turned down for employment that they didn’t say came as a result of that,” Allen said.

The group believes that if a man or woman can get a job, they’re less likely to get in trouble again.

“It’s a life saver,” said Robert Douglas, an advocate of the program. “It’s an opportunity to now reclaim some dignity, self esteem, self respect.”