A new program that began in Champaign County last week will help former inmates get back on their feet by connecting them with the services and personal contacts they’ll need to readjust to freedom.
Other programs are available to help inmates locally, said Pete Yost, a Workforce Investment Act coordinator for the Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services. But many of those are 12-step programs designed to deal with mental or drug problems, said Yost, who started the new Second Step program.
What separates this 12-week course, Yost said, is that its goal is to connect former inmates with area church and community leaders, and help them find the resources they need to volunteer, get to work or, if needed, simply find a place to live. The program was made possible in part due to a $4,000 grant from the Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol Services Board of Logan and Champaign Counties and with assistance from Renew Your Strength Ministries.
“We didn’t just want to focus on problems but find steps to take to find new patterns of behavior,” Yost said.
The program will last 12 weeks, with workshops hosted at Urbana United Methodist Church at the corner of North Main and Church streets. A typical workshop could last one to two hours and include guest speakers, information sessions on the resources available locally, and possibly refreshments and some entertainment.
One of the key components of the program in the first 12 weeks will be compiling a reference guide that lists where the individuals can get help finding food, transportation or shelter and offering other programs and agencies the individuals can turn to for help. The guide will eventually be provided to the Tri-County Jail as well as area social service agencies and churches.
The program also provides ex-offenders with a chance to relax and break their normal routine, Yost said. Many inmates might face issues ranging from drug addiction to chronic depression. The program might give them a break from their daily struggles, even if it’s only for an hour.
“There’s nothing like spending 24 hours a day thinking about your problems,” Yost said.
Dave Faulkner, Champaign County commissioner, spoke to participants in the first session last week. He discussed constructive ways to solve problems. Helping former inmates readjust successfully can help not just the individuals involved, but can also benefit the county in other ways, such as keeping the jail population down and cutting down on court costs.
“A lot of these people that are in there, they’re not bad people, they just made bad choices,” Faulkner said.
Another goal will be to help former inmates volunteer where they might be able to make the connections they need to eventually find work, Yost said. Even without the grant, Yost believes the program can continue as long as it is successful.
“We’re trying to build lasting relationships,” Yost said.
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