LANCASTER – Paving the Way Foundation hosted a resource fair in Lancaster on Wednesday, featuring about 50 organizations and agencies to help ex-inmates overcome transitional challenges in their community.
The Antelope Valley Re-entry Coalition Resource Fair 2015 provided formerly incarcerated individuals sources and referrals for employment counseling, living assistance and social service programs.
AVRC Administrator Kristina Rivas said community organizations behind the event understand the struggles ex-offenders face when attempting to reintegrate into society to begin a new life.
“As a coalition, we’re trying to get more of the community involved to see what we can do to promote re-entry into the community and get them past barriers that stand in their way – barriers that many in the public don’t realize they have,” Rivas said.
She said challenges to former inmates transitioning back into the community included lack of resources for providing education and training, as well as community acceptance.
“The one thing we do to separate ourselves from anyone else is that we are very family-oriented,” Rivas said. “We take it down to a level with the clients so they are comfortable with us – knowing that they are struggling through the transition, and wanting them to come back to us for further direction, whether it is a job or something personal they are going through.”
About 200 people showed up midway during the event, according to AVRC Chair Janie Hodge. Attendees were connected with resources provided by community organizations, including mental health referrals, legal assistance, job preparation, AB-109 services, financial literacy and even faith-based resources.
Minister Stanley Jay of Living Praise Christian Center, based in Chatsworth with a Palmdale campus, said faith-based services is critical to helping those formerly incarcerated succeed.
“More than half of the folks I’ve seen today totally depend on prayer and the spiritual effect of it to help them get them through this process,” Minister Jay said. “It was prayer that helped them get through their time when they were locked up. Unfortunately, they did not have most of these other types of resources available to them in prison.”
Hodge noted that her organization, Paving the Way, understands that a transition back to the community must begin for inmates before they leave prison.
“We work in the community when people come home, and we work in the prisons so that we can network and make sure our guys coming home have somewhere to go,” Hodge said, noting that the foundation also provides jail-based services, such as advocacy, emotional support, family communications support and release planning.
She said former inmates who are most successful in their transition back to society are individuals who “really want the support” from their community.
“The thing that impresses me the most is my guys that are in prison who we’ve built relationships with, and who actually come home and come to our agency, and receive help with housing, job placement, and job readiness,” Hodge said. “If they’re really interested, they take this information and resources, they embrace it, and they go out and change their lives.”
Jonathan Slack embraced his transition to the community thanks to the re-entry coalition. Signing people up at Wednesday’s event for free government lifeline cell phones through his company, Free Phones 4U (contracted with Life Wireless), Slack said the Antelope Valley Re-entry Coalition has given him the support needed to turn his life around and to help others in turn.
“I’m an ex-con myself, so I understand when somebody comes to me and tells me that they’re trying to make a change in their life,” Slack said, explaining he has hired up to 20 representatives for his enterprise. “And personally I know how a person has to pretty much sell themselves to get that opportunity to put their life on track. And I hear everyone out.”
The Los Angeles County Office of Education also reached out to former inmates at the resource fair to provide training opportunities for truck drivers and CNC machinists, as well as fields in the culinary arts and hospitality. Kimberly Carlson, a job developer at LACOE, said that about 40-60 percent of those assisted by the county’s job training programs are ex-offenders. LACOE in the Antelope Valley is located at 1817 W. Ave. K in Lancaster, and Carlson can be contacted at 661-729-1239 for more information.
Former inmates who may be willing to volunteer for the Los Angeles County Probation Department through its Visto Program can help rebuild the lives of youth and their families, according to Mary Ann Smiley, Supervising Deputy Probation Officer at the department. Contact the Probation Department at 562-940-3695 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about this opportunity.
According to Paving The Way Foundation, about 95 percent of all inmates are released back into communities, but only a few, 5 percent, will have received treatment while incarcerated for the problems that led to their incarceration. The foundation states that without intervention inmates will likely return to custody at a cost to taxpayers of $35,000 or more per inmate per year.
Located at 44814 Cedar Avenue in Lancaster, Paving the Way Foundation can be reached by calling 661-339-2733 or online at www.pavingthewayfd.com.
About the authorJim Winburn is a Los Angeles area news writer, sharing samples of his work at JimmyNewser.com. –