Monday, 12 March 2018 07:23

Renanscence Inc: The Home of Second Chances

Written by  Angela Hardgrave
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There are circumstances and decisions that take our lives in unexpected and sometimes heartbreaking directions. It is then that we must take up the broken pieces and begin again with a fresh start and a new life. However, forging a new life for ourselves is never easy. The process can be made more bearable with someone to share the burden with us. For some in Montgomery, that help comes from an incredible ministry called Renascence Inc. Their mission is “to assist men recently released on parole for non-violent offenses to successfully reintegrate into the community.”

 

According to statistics from Renascence, over 8,500 men are released from the Alabama Department of Corrections each year. Many of these men have no support from family or friends, no job, and no marketable skills. They may have other circumstances that make finding employment difficult, such as a lack of education, a history ofchemical dependence, physical or mental disabilities, or a lack of transportation. Over half return to prison within a few years.

 

Renascence is working to change these men’s lives and to give them a hope for their future. Joe Crowley, a member of the Board of Directors, said, “These re-entering men are my brothers in Christ, and I must share blessing with them, as I have been loved by God and my family. They enrich me as much as I help them. I have also been inspired by dedicated, competent Renascence board members and staff.”

 

According to Crowley, Renascence begin with a woman named Susan Douglass Porter, who was involved in Christian education in the Episcopal church. Porter felt called to care for “the least of these.” She responded to this call by teaching a job preparation course at the City Jail in Montgomery. Porter also tried to assist her students in finding affordable housing after they were released, but that proved to be an exceedingly difficult task. In 1997, she gathered other like-minded individuals with the intent of establishing a house where men who were released from prison could live. This house was named Renascence, which means “rebirth,” and was inspired by both the fresh start the men would make, as well as a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millet.

 

Crowley joined the Steering Committee in 1998. He said, “I was invited by a friend in Christ who was at the Alabama Prison Project doing mitigation research for the defense in capital murder cases. In 2002 and 2003 Renascence formed a board of directors and became an independent nonprofit organization. An Executive Director was hired, Mr. James Walden, who had successfully transitioned from prison and addiction to graduating from Auburn University Montgomery and working as a Drug Treatment Counselor in the Alabama Department of Corrections. Between 2004 and 2006, Jim was joined on staff by Shelagh Morrison, Dereck Wise, and Dana Dunklin. A diverse, competent board of directors, many committed volunteers, and growing community involvement supported the project.”

 

Also during this time, the house was renovated, the roof was repaired, and the exterior repainted. In 2005 and 2006, the major interior renovations happened thanks to two successful HUD HOME Funds grants through the City of Montgomery. Once the renovations were completed in 2006, Renascence opened its doors to the public, providing transitional shelter and services to residents. From that time through November 2017, the ministry provided a home to over 280 men.

 

Benefits go well beyond affordable housing, however. The men receive clothing, transportation, supervision, support groups, life skills training, and services tailored to each resident’s specific need, such as health care, education, and chemical dependency treatment. Renascence also assists men in reconnecting to family members in healthy ways.

 

Timothy Barkley, who lived at Renascence from Fall 2016 to Summer 2017, knows the value of this assistance first-hand. Barkley recently made his first trip home in years to see his whole family—his mother, sons, daughter, brothers, and grandchildren. “I know this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Renascence and God,” he said. “Words can’t describe the feeling I am having. The people responsible for Renascence’s existence [must have] known all the feelings you experience when you get out of prison—the hopes and fears. They know how to teach you responsibility and to do the right thing.” Barkley expressed his gratitude for all that has been done for him and for the care and love he has been shown. He said, “I could never tell each and every one of you how much I love you for making this miracle happen in my life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for a safe, drug-free home and a second chance at a life for me. May God continue to bless Renascence and you, the supporters, and the many more miracles to come. My sons and daughter are actually proud of their dad.”

 

Besides the life-changing benefits to residents and their families, the impact on the City of Montgomery is huge. “Renascence affords local employers workers who come to the job sober and with adequate rest, food, and communal support, and provides the Montgomery community a stable home and support for men who might otherwise be casting about. Renascence currently saves Alabama taxpayers over $17,000 a year for every resident who does not return to prison,” said Crowley.

 

Obviously, to sustain such an incredible ministry, you must have sufficient funding as well as dedicated people devoted to ensuring that the men leaving the prison system are not forgotten. “What makes Renascence go are good persons paying good attention to these men individually, encouraging them and holding them accountable, while modeling the responsibilities we want them to practice. To do this, we need competent, dedicated professional staff and funds with which to pay them a living wage and provide them with health insurance. We need board members and volunteers who will invest time and money for this work. Each year, we need new board members with a heart for our ministry, for a term of three years. Volunteers are needed to do mentoring, bring a meal, provide transportation, or donate needed items. And, we need prayer that we will stay in God’s will and Spirit,” said Crowley. To find out more about their needs and how you can donate, go to their website, halfway-home.net.

 

Another way that the community can support the ministry of Renascence is by attending their annual Ping Pong Tournament. This year’s tournament is Saturday, March 3 from 9:00am to 3:00pm. This is an exciting event for all ages and abilities—anyone who wants to “play for purpose.” For more information, go to halway-home.net.

 

 

Angela Hardgrave is a graduate of the University of Mobile with a degree in journalism and currently works in the Marketing Department of Faulkner University as a graphic designer. Angela is also a freelance writer for several publications in the River Region. She resides in Wetumpka, Alabama, with her three awesome daughters and her dog, Emmy.

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 March 2018 07:17
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