Kelly Dame, firstname.lastname@example.org
Published 8:30 am, Saturday, May 20, 2017
NICK KING | email@example.com Erica Hansen, right, sings with friend Tara Toma during a Restoration Fellowship service on Jan 9, 2016 at Messiah Lutheran Church in Midland. Hansen is a regular at the Saturday … more
With new eyes and a new heart for each client, a local nonprofit is working to help those who struggle with a unique set of challenges — the kind that test trust and patience, but overcoming can make all the difference.
The work done by the staff at Midland Community Former Offenders Advocacy and Rehabilitation is a special outreach aimed at helping former offenders learn how to take care of themselves without breaking the law again.
“People don’t offend on a schedule, they do so when a circumstance occurs,” said Rob Worsley, program director for the nonprofit MCFOAR, 1415 Washington St.
Worsley and assistant program directors Gerry McIvor and Tom Vander Zouwen spend their time assisting former inmates and prisoners as well as those who are in the Midland County Drug Court obtain housing, employment and basic needs. They also try to educate and serve as sources of on-call advice, provide workforce training and overcome road blocks.
The idea is the more these needs are met, the less likely former offenders are to revert back to their old ways. And that’s a good thing for the community, because it means less crime and less recidivism, plus less costly law enforcement and judicial systems.
MCFOAR is working to add additional layers of services for clients, the latest in the form of a mentoring program for those with employment needs or drug addiction.
“We have some great opportunities for people with addictions,” locally to get back on the right path, Worsley said, adding the first two weeks after a person leaves detox are the most dangerous for relapse.
The mentoring program would provide a one-on-one mentor for each client, to help them with accountability so they can sustain employment, as well as for support when they come out of drug treatment programs. The idea is to work with other organizations and employers in town.
“We’re trying to put another layer in there,” Worsley said.
The program would be modeled after the 70×7 Life Recovery program offered in Holland, Michigan, and Worsley said he is in the process of seeking community interest and volunteers.
What MCFOAR does
Worsley, a former Midland County sheriff’s deputy and jail manager, went on to work with the state’s prison re-entry program. When funding for that program was discontinued in December 2012, he began MCFOAR.
The plan is to help former offenders build skills to reduce risk behaviors, plus help them build value and life balance. That means Worsley, McIvor and Vander Zouwen are on call to answer questions and provide emergency assistance, as well as hold office hours during which they help offenders obtain documents like identification and birth certificates, plus housing, employment and more.
As of March, the program has 571 client files since January 2013. Of those clients, 258 have served prison time, and 313 are former Midland County Jail inmates or involved in other programs.
During the same time period, MCFOAR placed 269 clients out of 321 with employment, resulting in a placement percentage of 84 percent. The organization also helped 163 of 165 clients asking for help with housing.
Employment and housing help are critical because they are the major predictors of whether a former offender will reoffend, Worsley said.
From March 2015 and March 2017, MCFOAR worked with 84 former prisoners. Of those, only three are now incarcerated, making the recidivism rate 3.6 percent. State and national recidivism rates, measured during the same time frame, are at 43 percent and 51 percent, according to information from MCFOAR.
“Our hope is to help former offenders so they don’t reoffend,” Worsley said. “It makes the community safer and gives them hope for a better life. Without hope, they’re just existing every day.”
MCFOAR recently was awarded a $500 grant from the Rotary Club of Midland Morning to support the Alternatives to Violence program.
A typical day
There is no typical day at MCFOAR, both Worsley and McIvor say.
Some days see the staff attending the Midland County Drug Court or presenting at various organizations around town, working on new programs, or tasks including picking up furnishings, dropping off food and items to clients on tethers or who are homebound, and more.
There’s no appointment necessary for offenders who need help, and they flow through the door from the morning to early afternoon.
“For each client that comes in, new eyes, new heart,” McIvor said.
Jerry Laughton turned to MCFOAR for help after his second stint in prison. He and Worsley have known each other for decades, due in part to Worsley’s work in law enforcement and Laughton’s history. His first time in prison was in 1997, and there was no one to help when he was released two years later.
“I was totally homeless,” Laughton said, adding he lived in the woods. He said his most recent release was better, knowing he could visit MCFOAR and have a cup of coffee and a chat, as well as support.
That support included help getting an apartment, as well as furnishings. MCFOAR also offered help with education, and cell phone minutes so Laughton could obtain employment. The pair talked as Worsely filled out a form to create a voucher for a check that Laughton was to take to Kmart to purchase more minutes.
“We don’t give money to clients, we give them resources to meet the need,” Worsley said. The cell phone minutes were a big deal for Laughton, who has mechanical skills and picked up work as he could doing odd jobs.
MCFOAR also helped Laughton obtain an apartment, as well as with furnishings, clothing and more. Laughton is no longer involved in the MCFOAR program.
Erica Hansen also has been on the client list, after experiencing the criminal system due to drugs.
A recovering addict, Hansen said she depended on support groups, meetings and church to keep her occupied and away from drugs. MCFOAR provided her help with finding a job, no small task for a person with a record, and she pointed thanks toward Worsley.
Much of the attention given to clients is teaching them to deal with things right now instead of putting them off for another day, Worsely said.
“Many of our clients have substance or other disability situations come up and we usually hear about it in the last hour,” he said. That includes things like eviction orders, which clients call about on the seventh day. Many clients don’t want to reach out for help because of pride, but run into trouble when the figure out they can’t do it alone.
“We use that as an opportunity to teach,” Worsely said. “We put part of the onus on them, also asking them to help themselves.”
“We do less of the enabling and encourage more of the participation” McIvor said. “We try to instill some responsibility.”
Another issue the program helps former offenders deal with is the tendency to deal with today but not worry about tomorrow, Worsley said.
The idea of making it through the current day is how their lives developed over time, he explained, pointing out many offenders were put into survival mode early in life because they did not have the kind of support or stable living situations they needed. That also means MCFOAR is teaching clients to have a long-term vision, and “it’s OK to plan for the future,” Worsley said.
Mindy Kuhn is a former offender who has learned much about having a long term vision, and how to reach for it.
“I got in trouble with drugs,” said the spring 2016 Midland County Drug Court graduate. “It was so bad,” she said of her life before she began the recovery process. “I was so down and out and miserable.”
She was connected with MCFOAR by drug court staff due to struggles with housing and food after entering the court program in the fall of 2014. “My life is awesome now,” she said.
Not only did Kuhn receive help with those problems, she received support and help with transportation, and regained her happy nature and contagious smile.
“It truly changed my life,” she said, citing her relationship with God, having support and being able to keep her young daughter, Kylyn, who will turn 2 in August. That was huge for Kuhn, whose problems with drug use caused her to lose custody of her three older children. She needed to have a stable home to keep Kylyn.
“They worked real hard to help me get into a place,” she said.
The work Kuhn completed during her recovery, in addition to keeping clean, included attending recovery meetings, staying away from people who would pull her back into poor decision making, attending church and working with counselors and an infant mental health worker.
“I understand I had to put in the work,” she said, pointing to MCFOAR for helping her or pointing her to people who could.
“We’re always blessed when we can hear the recovery in people’s lives, where they come from,” McIvor said.
“They have your back,” Kuhn said of the program staff.
As one of the requirements to graduate drug court, Kuhn wrote a 15-page life plan. It includes self-accountability, stability, attending school for her aesthetician and nail tech licenses. Her long-term goal was to operate an animal rescue operation.
“I want to go to school. I want to move out. I want to have my rescue center,” she said.
At her drug court graduation, Kuhn summed it up.
“I’m just truly grateful. … It’s a pride thing. Use the resources, that’s why they’re here.”
For more about MCFOAR, go to www.midlandcommunityformeroffenders.org