After Eight Years . . . Eight Days of Gratitude - Part 4

Here’s post #4 in my “8 days of gratitude” for 8 years of amazing people who have taught and inspired me while I’ve served as RMO Director #RMOforReturningCitizens #gratitude

When I returned to PA after the Grace Tour in May, 2010, I felt called to look for ways to get involved at the local level to address issues in the criminal justice system. I had heard of a local coalition of non-profit agencies in Lancaster County, called the RMO, that had been working together on issues in prisoner reentry. I knew Scott Sheely, who chaired the RMO Board of Directors. So I called Scott, told him about my book and cross-country trip, and asked if I could get involved in the RMO. “Sure,” he replied. “There’s no money to pay you, but if you’d be willing to do some pro bono work, that would be great.” We agreed that I’d work pro-bono for 3 months, they’d give me a few projects to work on, and we’d “see what happens.” I started with the RMO as a volunteer in June, 2010.

My initial projects were to research and propose potential social enterprise businesses that could generate revenue for the RMO’s work and provide employment for clients, and to develop and implement a life-skills/reentry preparation class that our RMO partner agencies could teach to inmates at Lancaster County Prison.

After implementing those first projects, I took on additional assignments, and three months of pro-bono work turned into a year and a half of nearly full-time volunteering. I found all of it infinitely more fulfilling and meaningful than anything I’d done during my previous 22+ year career working for Fortune 500 companies.

Then, in January, 2012, with a small grant and some other funding in hand, the RMO Board voted to contract with me for a part-time position as RMO Executive Director. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since (with the minor change of going from being an independent contractor to a part-time employee of CAP when the RMO merged with CAP in 2016).

The RMO is, and always has been, a collaborative effort, with over 30 different non-profit agencies and the governmental departments connected to the criminal justice system working together to provide Resources, Mentoring and Opportunities so returning citizens can live productive, crime-free lives.

This collaboration work isn’t always easy – but it’s absolutely necessary, because the barriers and challenges that lead to someone being caught up in the criminal justice system are numerous and complex. Being incarcerated compounds those issues. So when people are released, they come out with even greater needs and barriers. No single agency or program can address all of the needs of justice-involved people.

I am so very grateful for the committed partners who have stayed at the table with the RMO all these years, despite various challenges of funding, politics, competing interests, and other frustrations and distractions from the real work of serving returning citizens.

As I’ve been going through my files from the past 8 years, I came across this blog post I wrote in 2011, a year into my initial volunteer gig with the RMO. The gratitude and other sentiments I expressed back then for our many RMO partners hold just as true for me now as back then. So, here is that post again, with my very sincerest thanks to our RMO partners (I’ve included the current list of RMO partners at the bottom of the post):

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MARCH 31, 2011
Yesterday, I found more buried treasure here in Lancaster. It was in a nondescript room in a nondescript building on the south side of the city. Not the sort of place anyone would go looking for treasure. But there it was . . . in the form of about 50 people from secular and faith-based social service organizations, and city, county and state government agencies, talking together about ways to help people being released from Lancaster County Prison (LCP) to get the support, education, and services they need to avoid returning to crime and to live as productive, law-abiding citizens.

This was one of the regular bi-monthly meetings of the Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO). Over 50 RMO partners have been working together since 2005 to coordinate services that address critical needs for housing, employment, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services, education, transportation, family and parenting supports, and other needs for people being released from LCP.

As the people around the table yesterday talked about the challenges of meeting so many needs for people much of the rest of the community has forgotten, I realized that here, HERE is some of Lancaster’s real buried treasure.

In people whose names and organizations may be little known out in the broader community.

People who do incredibly challenging, sometimes heartbreaking work that few others are willing to take on.

People who do mundane, sleeves-rolled-up work too – driving clients to appointments, helping them get appropriate clothes for job interviews and forms of identification, ensuring they can obtain their medications, helping them fill out forms, teaching them the basics of having a bank account . . . the list goes on and on and on.

People and organizations with stripped-down and ever-shrinking budgets, but great big hearts.

The individuals and the organizations they represent that are part of this RMO partnership clearly have a passion for serving our community and ultimately, making it a safer place for all of us by doing all they can to reduce recidivism.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll share more about the work of this terrific and important collaborative effort.

And I hope to have more to share soon about another bit of added treasure in that room yesterday – a group of visitors from the Philadelphia Leadership Foundation came to talk with the RMO group about engaging the faith community across Lancaster County in this reentry work, through a very successful national model called “Healing Communities,” based on the work and research of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

They describe Healing Communities this way:
“The term “prisoner reentry” reflects the simple fact that most inmates do return to society. Healing Communities go further. They press for reintegration in their desire to see relationships restored between men and women returning from incarceration, and their families, communities, the larger society and, where possible, the victims of their criminal behavior . . . {the} Healing Communities model . . . seeks to engage congregations in restoration and healing – starting with people in their own congregations affected by crime and incarceration.” (from the Annie E Casey Foundation publication Balancing Justice with Mercy: An Interfaith Guide for Creating Healing Communities)

After the RMO meeting officially ended, people lingered around the table and in the hallway, continuing the conversation about how to help some of our most forgotten citizens to return successfully to the community. Since I began volunteering with the RMO after my cross-country tour last year, I’ve been continually awed and humbled by the people involved with this organization and the work they do.

Buried treasure. In hearts of gold.

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Here’s the list of terrific local non-profit agencies, churches and faith-based organizations, and governmental departments that currently make up the RMO coalition:

Advoz: Mediation & Restorative Practices
ASSETS
Bird Ministries- House of Ruth
Beth Shalom House of Peace
COBYS Family Services
Compass Mark
Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County
Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster
Ebenezer Baptist Church-Lancaster
Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren
First United Methodist Church, Lancaster PA
Freedom Path church
Grandview United Methodist Church
Hamilton Park United Church of Christ (UCC)
Have a Heart for Persons in the Criminal Justice System
Lancaster PA Friends Meeting (Quaker)
Lancaster City Housing Authority
Lancaster City Police Department
Lancaster County Adult Probation & Parole
Lancaster County Assistance Office
Lancaster County Behavioral Health/Developmental Services
Lancaster County District Attorney’s office
Lancaster County Drug & Alcohol Commission
Lancaster County Prison
Lancaster County Public Defender’s office
Lancaster County Workforce Development Board
Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership
Lancaster-Lebanon IU13
Mental Health America of Lancaster County
MidPenn Legal Services
The Naaman Center
New Person Ministries
PA Board of Probation & Parole
PA CareerLink of Lancaster County
PA Department of Corrections
The RASE Project
Spanish American Civic Association
St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Lancaster PA
Tabor Community Services, Inc.
TLC Lancaster
Potter’s House/A Transition to Community Ministry
Trinity Lutheran Church, Lancaster PA
Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster
Water Street Mission
YWCA Lancaster

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