By the Rev. Dr. Joe Connelly
Governor Jindal said, “Too often, communities are not prepared to deal with the many issues that arise for released offenders, including the challenges they face to find housing, jobs, and handle their substance abuse problems. And likewise, many offenders are not fully prepared to re-enter society and start anew once they leave prison.
“Without education, job skills, and other basic services, offenders are likely to repeat the same steps that brought them to jail in the first place. This not only affects the offender, but families and our communities as well. This is a problem that needs to be addressed head-on. We cannot say we are doing everything we can to keep our communities and our families safe if we are not addressing the high rate at which offenders are becoming repeat criminals. --March 18, 2009
In our communities we have hundreds of persons trying to make the transition from prison each year. There are a number of organizations attempting to help, but the task is daunting. Regardless of how you feel, these men and women are coming home, and they need our help.
In the summer of 2010, Wesley United Methodist Church founded New Situations of Baton Rouge, Inc., as a non-profit, 501(c) 3, tax-exempt organization with a mission to recognize and respond to challenges affecting our community. We intend to address social and systemic shortcomings and respond proactively to foster self-sufficiency among formerly incarcerated persons, whom we know as returning citizens.
New Situations is the answer to Wesley’s long-held dream to develop a community-based non-profit service organization. Two-thirds of our board of directors are members of Wesley, and one-third are non-Wesley community members. The board is governed by the laws of Louisiana and the guidelines of the United Methodist Church’s General Council of Finance and Administration. Wesley’s pastor, Dr. Joe Connelly, serves as Executive Director and Carl Jackson is the Chairman of the Board.
Our objective is to work collaboratively with federal and state correctional system officials, city jail personnel, faith community partners, and community reentry organizations to provide programs, services, and training to persons returning from incarceration into their communities. Through these efforts we hope to provide personal and cultural enrichment to the lives of people that have been traditionally overlooked.
Personal mentoring is key to helping returning citizens make a smooth transition. Our Life Coach (mentoring) component is called Strength for Today, Hope for Tomorrow. Returning citizens will receive personal life coaching from mentors trained and assigned by faith-based Life Coaching Centers in their communities. Ninety days prior to their release, returning citizens will begin meeting and forging relationships with their life coaches.
This new venture will seek supportive grants and corporate sponsorships, along with other fundraising to develop its New Situations Training & Entrepreneurship Program (NSTEP). The program will provide the following services:
1. Entrepreneurial Development Program (EDP), an extensive effort to assist in the development, start up, and support services needed for new businesses.
2. Job Development Initiative, an alternative to EDP for participants who decide not to pursue self-employment. We will redirect them to additional training and employment opportunities.
3. Follow-up Services – additional monitoring and assistance, including job retention training for employees and business counseling for entrepreneurs who have begun new ventures.
4. Life Coaching (Mentoring) - connecting our returning citizens with nearby coaching partners residing in their areas. The life coaches will first develop meaningful relationships (90 days prior to release), help their partners make good decisions, listen to their confidential concerns and provide encouragement and a safe space for positive feedback.
NSTEP consists of three phases of services to benefit reentry participants. Phase I involves personal enrichment and job readiness training. Phase II involves career and entrepreneurial development Phase III involves follow-up case management and counseling and training for job retention or business development support. Throughout all three phases our Life Coach (mentoring) component plays an integral part.
When developing the concept of NSTEP, we sought to address numerous issues and find leverage, where possible, to create employment and career opportunities and advantages. We realized that to make our program unique, we would have to start at the basic level and help participants evolve and advance to next steps in a gradual, yet steady, pace.
We want to deal with the whole person in teaching self-sufficiency. We want to equip them with skills that will make them eligible to compete for many jobs as opposed to a particular occupation. According to surveys, employers desire employees with competent basic skills in reading, writing, math, verbal expression and listening comprehension. Many employers will provide specific job skills training if new prospective have basic competencies.
Through our research we have concluded that successes in career development require a foundation upon which to build. An individual who has possibly never worked at a job or has worked only minimally cannot be rushed through a job training program and be expected to function self-sufficiently.
Thus we have developed Phase I to address this need by attempting to change the mindset of the participants. We expect to regenerate hope and desire for success in the daily lives of those who might otherwise remain underserved and continue a life of dependency and likely self-destruction through substance abuse, crime and violence born of despair.
Once we’ve regenerated hope and desire for success through goal-setting in Phase I, the next level is Phase II. At this point, one must be employed or just recently laid off. Phase II will provide specific job training experiences for career development and also reveal opportunities for entrepreneurship through the Entrepreneurial Development Program. It should be noted that not all Phase I graduates are required to enter Phase II, only those with the desire to start their own business.
Phase III is the final stage and involves continued case management. The degree of case management will involve monthly and quarterly follow-up contacts and feedback from new business owners, graduates and their employers. We will make site visits to new businesses and employers to encourage further development by allowing graduates to return for free refresher courses.
The Rev. Dr. Joe Connelly is the senior pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church and founding CEO of New Situations of Baton Rouge, La..