Gemeinschaft Home residents provide the lyrics...local bands and college students bring the music. The Sunday evening concert featured a collaboration between James Madison University students studying social work and music and Gemeinschaft Home residents.
Harrisonburg, VA - On Sunday, May 6, 2018, Gemeinschaft Home residents joined students and faculty from James Madison University, as well as bands from around the region, at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts to present a concert featuring songs and lyrics created during a year-long collaboration.
In summer 2017, faculty of the School of Music and Department of Social Work initiated a project funded by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, "Transitioning & Traversing: Stories and Songs of Incarceration, Equity, Justice, and Community," which brought undergraduates together with residents in a music-based storytelling project.
Throughout the 2017-2018 academic year, students came once a week--on Monday evenings--to Gemeinschaft Home and worked with residents through an eight-week program to write music and lyrics about their life stories and experiences.
The purpose of the collaboration was to foster community involvement, promote music as therapy practices, and to raise awareness about the experiences and issues surrounding incarceration.
More information about the grant as well as the project itself can be found in the following video:
The following videos from the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts feature a combination of Gemeinschaft Hone residents, JMU students and faculty, as well as local bands performing song and lyrics created during the collaboration.
Program support has been given a boost recently, since Aaron Oda and Brandi Smith have joined the organization.
A quick stroll through the Bender building during normal business hours reveals an inviting space of open office doors and the sound of light music and conversations hanging in the air. Program participants and residents come and go throughout the day, sometimes for a required meeting and other times just to say hello to the case managers, whose offices are located here, apart from the main residence.
I sat down recently with case managers Brandi Smith and Aaron Oda, who are the newest members of the Gemeinschaft Home team, to talk about their backgrounds and current role in the organization. What I discovered in these two conversations was a profound commitment to the individuals we serve and an equal desire to support the community at large. While their own journeys to Gemeinschaft Home began in different places, and included various kinds of training and work experience, they share a philosophical approach in their current work and interactions with program participants.
Smith began working at Gemeinschaft Home in September 2017, as case manager for the Day Reporting Center (DRC). Oda started in March 2018, as case manager for the DOC reentry program, after transitioning from a part-time position (shift supervisor) that he held since October 2016. Neither Smith nor Oda had ever anticipated working with (ex)offenders, prior to coming to Gemeinschaft Home, even though both had been adamant for some time about working in a career focused exclusively on helping others.
Originally from Indiana, Oda worked as an audio engineer for a recording studio after college, a job that was creative, but afforded him little opportunity to interact with people. Smith, who grew up in nearby Alleghany County, worked in a bank, which involved people-oriented tasks, but few meaningful connections with others. Oda eventually moved to Georgia to live and work in an intentional community, where he worked with refugees, and later became involved with peacebuilding and educational initiatives that led him to Eastern Mennonite University. Smith went back to school full-time, first in the human services program at Blue Ridge Community College and later in social work at Mary Baldwin College.
They discovered Gemeinschaft Home by way of acquaintances. Oda studied restorative justice with board member Carl Stauffer at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), where he first learned about Gemeinschaft Home. The organization’s vision resonated with his interest in and work with refugees, particularly victims of trauma. Like refugees, ex(offenders) represent a “population that is not really treated with dignity in our communities and on a national scale,” Oda says.
Smith studied human services with residence life coordinator and case manager John Butler at Blue Ridge Community College, who recommended she apply for the position at Gemeinschaft Home. While having no prior experience with (ex)offenders, Smith points out that she was particularly eager about the opportunity. “I have a heart for it, because my brother is an addict and has been in and out of jail,” adding that the experience with her brother has significantly shaped how she approaches her job.
Smith stresses that interventions with her clients must be wholistic. “They don’t just come for drug screens. They come to work on themselves from the inside out,” she explains, “to ask questions like ‘What caused this? How do I prevent this from happening in the future?’” And none of this is a solitary act, according to Smith, but requires a social support structure that includes family members. “How can we help you help them?” is the framing question in each case.
Smith and Jumar Peterson are currently developing a new program curriculum, Connection Points, to educate the community about steps family members can take to support their loved ones who are struggling with cycles of addiction and incarceration.
Oda employs a wholistic approach as well, one that necessitates active engagement from the resident (client), stating, “I always try to do some sort of creative activity like writing exercises, drawing art, because it is a way for them to own the process of what they are doing—and not just have someone talk at them. They have to know that they are part of that process of recovery.”
Oda encourages their active role, telling each individual from the start: “This is going to be a reflective space, for you to look into the mirror. This is a place for you to start unpacking your stories, start unpacking the traumas.”
Brandi Smith and Aaron Oda embody a gracious spirit and progressive vision for their work at Gemeinschaft Home. Our community is fortunate to welcome them, and we look forward to our future collaborations!
Former resident, Charlie Ferguson, talks about his time at Gemeinschaft Home as a turning point—one in which he could imagine a life beyond incarceration.
When Charlie Ferguson arrived at Gemeinschaft Home for the first time in the Summer of 2016, he “was overwhelmed with peace and happiness,” joking that the old Victorian home looked more like a country bed and breakfast than a house where formerly incarcerated men lived. The setting has remained a steady, calming factor in Ferguson’s life ever since his arrival, providing a way for him to refocus. “Sure, I have problems, and things still bother me, but when I go out on that porch and look across that field with the cows and the mountains, things seem to be all right.”
Originally from Danville, Virginia, Ferguson had spent a large portion of his life incarcerated, in a destructive cycle of behaviors that all but guaranteed he would never leave prison for long, a reality that gradually became clearer to him as neared age 50. “At the end of my incarceration, either I make the decision to deal with this or I am going to live the rest of my life in prison,” he explains, “So, I chose to deal with it.”
Ferguson had heard about the Gemeinschaft Home program through other inmates and decided to take a pro-active approach by reaching out to the re-entry specialist at the facility where he was incarcerated and eventually sending off the application materials himself.
He arrived at ready to make progress, and quickly established a relationship with former program director Richie Yowell, who guided his progress throughout the program. For the first time in his life, Ferguson began to look back at his life experience, his struggles with addiction, and he came to a significant realization.
“When you are looking at people with alcohol addictions or drug addictions or whatever kind of addiction you have, that’s just the surface of the problem,” he says, pointing out, “In order to deal with it, you have to face the reality that you need to get to the root of the problem. And the root of my problem was my father’s death. I just kept suppressing it, and I never wanted to deal with it.”
Without a dependable support system, Ferguson recognized early-on that the tools he would need to survive on is own, to remain substance free, and to stay out of prison were available to him at Gemeinschaft Home. “I came here with no family—nothing—and if I left here with nothing, then that’s where I was at, because I had nothing else. I had to depend on me,” he recounts.
Ferguson started working during his second week in the program, going full-time after thirty days, and he has been working with the same company (LSC Communications) ever since. He paid off thousands of dollars in court fees/fines, and he purchased a truck, which he paid for in cash. Such progress has given him confidence to continue working toward a productive, responsible life, and to share his past experience with others.
After completing the 90-day program, Ferguson expected to go back to Danville, but decided instead to remain in Harrisonburg and continue working at LSC. Living next door to Gemeinschaft Home, Ferguson regularly visits with the staff and residents, and has recently discovered a talent and passion for mentoring, particularly among the younger residents.
“I have walked hundreds of miles in their shoes already,” he says, which gives him unique insight into the challenges they face, and he is committed to furthering the Gemeinschaft Home mission that enabled him to change the direction of his life forever.
Join us on Saturday, March 17 for an evening of fun to support Gemeinschaft Home!
The Jesus Stories: Faith, Forks & Fettuccine is coming to Harrisonburg on Saturday, March 17, 2018 at 7:00 pm at Divine Unity Community Church, 1680 Country Club Rd, Harrisonburg, VA to raise funds for Gemeinschaft Home.
Suggested admission donation is $15, with opportunity to bid on auction items during the event. All funds raised will benefit Gemeinschaft.
About the play: There are many Gospel stories of Jesus gathered around tables. There was food to eat and food for thought, exploring who was invited to those tables and who showed up. The miracles of Jesus were sometimes ordinary stories with extraordinary results.
In The Jesus Stories writers and performers Ted Swartz and Jeff Raught offer a fresh look at the Gospel stories and discover that when uncorked, these stories pour out sparkling drops of laughter Jesus must have found in the people he met along the way. Ted and Jeff have gathered these stories, mixing in a pinch of humor, a dollop of song and several servings of pasta with some cheese and wine on the side. Bon Appetit!
Please come out to support and celebrate the good work of Gemeinschaft in our community.
Joseph Dudash talks about his experiences living at Gemeinschaft Home and his belief in the mission of re-entry programs that give individuals the tools they need to survive life after incarceration.
“DUDASH!” shouted bright and loud, is often heard when Gemeinschaft Home resident and house leader, Joseph Dudash, enters the room. Perhaps the unusual sound of his name—which he explains is Polish—invites others to proclaim it aloud as soon as they see him, but whatever the reason, people generally respond positively when he’s around.
He has a quiet way about him, but exudes a poise that is both robust and gentle. He speaks with confidence, and his words carry evidence of careful thought and reflection. It is the kind of charisma that good leaders are made from, and so it is unsurprising that Dudash quickly assumed a role of responsibility as a house leader.
Now in his late thirties, he provides an invaluable perspective for younger residents in the program, enabling him to offer a unique form of mentorship that is as beneficial for them as it is for his own personal growth. So far, Dudash’s ability to find employment has been limited, because of several debilitating physical injuries he sustained in the past and the current (and long overdue) medical treatment he receives now.
Nonetheless, when he is not on bedrest, recuperating from a series of back/neck surgeries, Joe spends his time around the house helping others, which he says has given him a sense of purpose that he has not felt for many years.
I met Mr. Dudash not long after he arrived at Gemeinschaft Home last summer, and over the last several months, he has shared some of his story with me—his experiences that include addiction, incarceration, homelessness, re-incarceration—and now his time living at Gemeinschaft Home.
The story begins roughly a decade ago, when Joe, a college-educated, married (with one child), productive citizen, worked at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center and later as a police officer at Western State Hospital.
However, in 2009, Dudash was badly injured on the job, an event that changed the course of his life.
The combination of severe pain, perpetually postponed medical procedures (stemming from issues in the workman’s compensation process), and his inability to sustain work completely unraveled the fabric of Joe’s world.
He cultivated a severe addiction to painkillers, which eventually led to a felony narcotics conviction and incarceration in February 2016. In addition to his freedom, he also lost his wife, child, and home in divorce.
By the time Joe was released from jail six months later, in October 2016, he was homeless. He could not turn to family members for help, because his relationships with them had deteriorated in previous years. While he found shelter at night (e.g., Salvation Army and Open Doors) in the local area, he struggled to survive during the daytime hours, while these services are unavailable, from 7:00am-7:00pm.
His physical injuries continued to worsen, particularly deteriorating nerve, muscle, and tissue damage, which further prohibited his ability to work. With little money and few options apparent, Joe used alcohol to diminish both the physical and emotional pain of his existence.
Because he was still on probation, when he was arrested in January of this year for being drunk in public, he was re-incarcerated for six more months.During a recent conversation, I listened to Joe talk about those months last year between his two incarcerations, and I struggled to reconcile the man he described with the man I saw now sitting across the table. “I wanted to die,” he explains, recalling one specific moment last New Year’s Eve.
That night he spent the last of his money on a bottle of liquor and the rest of the night in a covered bus stop, trying to avoid the rainy cold weather. “I had reached rock bottom, and I did not care about anything anymore.” Within days, Dudash was again behind bars.
After his release in June, Joe Dudash was ordered to complete Gemeinschaft Home’s program, which marked the beginning of the newest chapter in his story. He points out that he has now been incarcerated twice, but what happened afterward has made a significant difference in his capacity to move forward in life.
Overall, the Gemeinschaft program has supported Joe in two ways: 1. By providing basic life necessities (clothing and food), including a safe place to stay 24/7; and 2. By offering vital tools, counseling, and advice on a range of issues from addiction to family relationships.
Dudash characterizes the program as “a structure with lose wires,” a flexible framework that gives participants a chance to build better foundation for life.
“There are a lot of little things that entail the Gemeinschaft Home program. The Gemeinschaft program is a safety net,” Dudash says, further explaining that it is the “small things, the everyday things people don’t really think about, like running water, electricity—you know, they think about it when it’s time for bills—but these are things that can make or break you.”
He adds that because he lives at Gemeinschaft Home, “I can take a shower when I need to. I don’t have to wear the same clothes every day for a month.” Consequently, Joe has been given the opportunity to heal from his physical injuries, and to gain some useful strategies for dealing with life’s curveballs down the road.
“The fact that we work on stuff in group sessions together, that there are counselors available to talk to when we need them is what makes the chance we have here possible,” he says.
He is now at a point where he can establish long term (staying clean and sober) as well as and short-term (finishing school) goals for himself that include a renewed interest in working again in criminal justice.
Dudash revealed that “For many years, I thought my career with law enforcement and corrections was totally over,” but now says he would love to get back into this work, especially in a setting like Gemeinschaft Home, because “it would give me a good, solid purpose, which is what I thrive on…”
For now, Joe is making steady progress, and he is already helping others along the way. Gemeinschaft Home makes the journey possible, but each resident has to take the initiative to walk it the path each day, and Joe is making steps in the right direction.
If you have never stepped inside Gemeinschaft Home—you really should plan a visit. The old farmhouse embodies a spirit that is apparent from the moment you walk through the door.
While there is a lot of anxiety associated with leaving prison to re-enter society, former inmates who arrive at Gemeinschaft Home’s front porch bring with them a sense of hope—if only for a fleeting moment—about taking the next step in their lives.
The transition in itself is a jarring experience, and residents are challenged constantly to overcome a range of concerns, from adjusting to a new living space and daily schedule, to finding a job and reconnecting with estranged family members. Yet with every new resident, there is a regeneration of hope that stirs the air and lingers long after individual residents have come and gone.
The cumulative effect is pleasant and calm on most days, not withstanding the occasional misunderstandings, disputes, and other dramatic forms that emerge when forty men from all walks of life converge in one house and must find a way to live together in a positive and supportive way.
There is never a dull moment, and, of course, there are times when some residents have more bad days than good ones. But, overall for those residents who are ready “to walk the journey,” as executive director, Sharon Ringgold would say, Gemeinschaft Home exudes a warm energy for anyone choosing to embrace it.
At certain times of the day, the house is quieter, when the majority of residents are at work, but generally there is a flutter of activity and chatter throughout the hallways and rooms of Gemeinschaft Home. Residents share bedrooms, prepare meals and eat together, and maintain a list of chores that includes cleaning the bathrooms and all communal spaces.
The landscape surrounding the house contributes significantly to the gentle environment of Gemeinschaft Home; the spacious wraparound porch offers stunning vistas of the mountains and nearby farmland. Residents are generally cordial and welcome conversations with visitors.
Summer is the perfect time to take a tour of the house and to get to know some of its residents—even if you want to just enjoy a view of the mountain scenery.
A Path to Growth for Gemeinschaft Home
Consultants work in a variety of contexts, helping organizations like Gemeinschaft Home with strategic planning and development.
The idea of strategic planning, perhaps even the phrase itself, evokes a sense of anxiety for many people, particularly those who are in charge of such work, but no organization can survive without it. Strategic planning creates an opportunity for people running an organization to ask: Who are we? What do we do? and Where do we want to go? The procedure usually takes between six and nine months to complete and concludes with the organization gaining greater clarity in and fuller articulation of its priorities and steps for taking action. Strategic planning involves every facet of the organization, and relies heavily on the participation of board members and employees.
Fortunately, the actual process of strategic planning is less formidable, when under the guidance of seasoned consultants. David Brubaker, Jane Ellen Reid, and Barbara Robbins of Cooperative by Design help organizations to make the experience both productive and rewarding. Last year, Gemeinschaft Home enlisted their help, when the board of directors launched the organization’s ongoing strategic planning initiative.
While in charge of the overall direction of the project, the consultants themselves bring no specific agenda to the table, according to Jane Ellen Reid who says, “We bring in the process, we are the process holders, even if there are disagreements, but we want to know where differing opinions may butt against each other.” Listening to the perspectives of various stakeholders in the organization—board members and employees at all levels—is what Reid calls, “going in 360” (observing the organization from all possible angles).
Such was the case with Gemeinschaft Home, during the initial phase. “First, we listen and get a list of questions—people have buy-in from the beginning—our goal to get to know each other, figure out who we need to talk to,” Reid explains. She characterizes the approach as a type of “appreciative inquiry” and asks questions like: “What do you do well? What are your ideas for change?”
In addition to their general interactions with people in the organization, Reid and Robbins also worked closely with a “reference team,” made up of two board members (Liz Buchanan and Doris Pye) and two staff members (Sharon Ringgold and Jumar Peterson) to hammer out the finer details involved with the project.
“We start very broadly,” says Reid, and focus on several concepts: Mission, “Why do you exist?” Vision, “Where do you want to be in 3-5 years?” and Values, “What values do you want to hold in 3-5 years?”
Next the team focused on more specific recommendations for updates to bylaws, policy handbooks, and other forms of documentation that specify standards, role expectations, and time commitments for individuals working in the organization.
Reid is enthusiastic about the progress Gemeinschaft Home has made throughout the strategic planning process, sharing that “the board has been wonderful,” and the “people who are on the reference team have worked REALLY hard. They met with us every other week. It’s A LOT of work.”
Pulling together a coherent vision of the future among a diverse group of people, who are equally passionate about the organization, is no small feat. The success of such work is a testament to the tremendous dedication of the Gemeinschaft Home community and their willingness to grow.
Former resident, John Butler, Jr., returns to Gemeinschaft Home—this time as an employee.
The sound of his voice often precedes him, as residents and staff encounter John Butler, Jr., Gemeinschaft Home’s new Residence Life Coordinator, and its deep tone resonates all of the warmth and grace of the man himself. Whether he is leading a group session or having an impromptu conversation in the hallway, Butler embodies a gentle aura that is both authentic and powerful.
Butler began work in this position last June, but his journey at Gemeinschaft Home began almost thirteen years ago, when he arrived as a resident. “I came here from prison in 2003. I got here the day after Christmas. It was what I needed at the time, and that is why I am still here,” Butler explains, pointing to his experience in the program as the watershed moment in which he chose another path.
“I went to prison twice and had an active addiction for over thirty years. I got to the point where everything that I believed in was a lie,” he says. The major difference he observes in his perspective today is that “I believe in the impossible. The impossible in this situation being the idea that a prisoner can never return to mainstream society and live a positive and productive life.”
He is proof that the impossible is indeed possible, after all. He embodies a real and present example for residents in the program. He enacts a different way of being in the world, and has the ethos “to embrace others on the same road,” he says, because he has shared so much of their past experiences.
On prison life, Butler explains, “When you continuously have someone in control of the light switch and water valve and all movement, it produces a certain amount of stagnation. Prisoners don’t have to worry about anything, and when they get out of prison, they don’t know how to handle it.” He adds, “We need help a lot of times to take a look around and realize what we’re doing and the next thing we need to do.”
Butler argues that the strength of Gemeinschaft Home is in its capacity to provide residents with learning experiences and tools for living that enable them to adjust to life beyond incarceration. Part of that mission involves instilling an ethic of care for others and a sense of accountability for one’s own actions. “Having genuine concern and empathy was a big learning experience for me,” he says, reflecting on his time as a resident in the program.
Butler completed a six-month program in 2004, and, after settling in the local area, he never stayed too far away from Gemeinschaft Home. With expertise in maintenance work, Butler found employment and housing, joined a church, and established new friendships, but it seemed as though something was absent from his life. He explains that “I was good at my work, and I made good money, but it wasn’t who I am, because my heart wasn’t giving back. It’s in my heart to reach out to people to show them the way.”
Over the last decade, Butler gradually has become more involved in the organization, both on a volunteer and paid basis, and he has served on the board of directors. Butler has also become active in other community-based initiatives as well. For example, he is president of Virginia 21, a nonpartisan organization that raises awareness about voting issues and monitors ongoing discussions in congress, the general assembly, and among local delegates. Butler’s interest is significant and personally relevant, because as a convicted felon in the Commonwealth of Virginia, he lost his privilege to vote. The right can be restored for ex(offenders), but only through a complicated application and approval process. Butler was released more than thirteen years ago, but he has only recently been given back the right to vote.
Now in a full-time position Butler’s work for the organization involves a variety of roles, and, in part, involves communicating with representatives from the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) to determine whether referred applicants are eligible for the program and to facilitate the transition of new residents from prison to Gemeinschaft Home upon their release.
However, most of his job focuses on residents currently in the program, and his approach is the same with an individual one-on-one as it is in a larger group setting: “Let’s work our way through this together.” He advises residents to be realistic in their expectations and emphasizes that “we are not going to be who we want to be overnight.”
Butler strongly advocates for the creation of more re-entry/transition programs, and he challenges the common usage of the word “halfway house,” as it applies to Gemeinschaft Home, stressing, “Halfway house is not good enough. Half is not good enough. We need to have a successful completion of the transition for them to successfully go on with their lives.” Down the road, Butler hopes to become director at a sister or brother facility that is connected to Gemeinschaft Home.
As he now reflects on his past experiences, Butler stresses, “All I wanted was to be clean, sober, and able to make a difference—and that is what I did,” crediting Gemeinschaft Home for the opportunity to do so.
Brenda Leigh provides Gemeinschaft Home residents with family-style meals, made daily from scratch with fresh, high-quality ingredients.
The sweet and savory aromas of home cooking quickly envelope the senses of anyone who walks through the front doors of Gemeinschaft Home in the early afternoon. Dinner is served daily at 4PM, but the irresistible scents that reach into every corner of the house often lure residents to the dining area earlier. Even some of the administrative staff members, whose offices are located on the first floor of the house, admit to venturing back into the kitchen periodically in search of one fragrance or another swirling in the air.
Food manager, Brenda Leigh, established the practice of preparing fresh, home-cooked meals for residents, when she joined the Gemeinschaft Home staff just over three years ago. At first, Leigh took charge of the kitchen on a temporary basis, and she characterized her role at that time as just “helping out” the organization while they hired someone to fill the position. However, shortly thereafter, she was offered the job permanently, and the Gemeinschaft Home community has enjoyed the benefits of her culinary skill ever since.
Leigh, who is known affectionately among the residents as “Ms. B.”—not just because her first name begins with the letter B, but she is often seen “as busy as a bee around the kitchen,” according to one former resident—is not professionally trained in the culinary arts, but she brings a wealth of experience to her work at Gemeinschaft Home. Much of her skill comes from her past work in the food industry, the lessons she learned as a child in her grandmother’s kitchen, and the years she spent raising children and preparing family meals.
Because the residents’ work schedules differ greatly, and many are at their job locations during breakfast and lunchtime, Ms. B. prepares brown-bag meals for residents each day as well, and she maintains a well-stocked cupboard for residents (who cook for the house on the weekends) to prepare meals.
Ms. B.’s commitment to the wellbeing of the residents is most evident in her philosophy of soul food. To her, having access to good food is an integral part of the life recovery program at Gemeinschaft Home. The majority of residents arrive with at least one year of prison food behind them, and she argues that a little taste of home can help to ease some of the anxiety and stress that many individuals experience upon leaving prison.
Prior to her arrival three years ago, residents consumed meals prepared mostly from pre-packaged, processed, and frozen ingredients, but Ms. B. saw an opportunity to give residents tastier, more nutritious foods, including many of her own recipes as well as those shared by residents—“They teach me!” she proclaims proudly. Her reputation is well known among some prospective residents, who have heard about her home-cooked meals from their friends or acquaintances who have lived at Gemeinschaft Home.
Ms. B. stresses that good food is healing for the soul, and she points out that no matter what issue an individual resident may face, he knows that he will eat well today and every day he lives at Gemeinschaft Home. In addition to the daily meals, Ms. B. also prepares special dinners on major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day, and Easter.
The gratitude from residents is readily apparent, according to Ms. B., who claims she often hears comments such as “This tastes just like my mom used to make!” or “This is the same way my grandmother made it!”
While she has made more money working in other positions, Ms. B. says that no other job has ever been as rewarding. The residents make her job worthwhile, and she is happy to contribute to their success in the program.
While she knows that residents have a long journey ahead of them, with a number of issues confronting them, she asks herself, “If I were in their shoes, how would I want to be treated?” The answer can be found in the main ingredient of her cooking—love—and she always dishes out an extra helping.
Gemeinschaft Home Launches New Program
In collaboration with the city of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, Gemeinschaft Home now provides a new service—a Day Reporting Center (DRC)—that offers an alternative to incarceration in the local community.
Developed in response to ever-growing concerns about jail overpopulation and rates of recidivism, the program offers intensive supervision of certain individuals, often first-time offenders, while they remain in the community and can sustain employment, childcare, and other obligations.
For a brief period in the early 2000s, there was a Day Reporting Center in Harrisonburg, sponsored by the Virginia Department of Corrections, but the program was dissolved shortly after its creation, due to a lack of funding resources.
However, in August 2015, the city of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County issued a public call for proposals to establish a day reporting center in the local area. Gemeinschaft Home answered, developing a proposal to establish such a program, and soon after began contract negotiations with local government officials to hammer out the details.
The Day Reporting Center officially opened in January of this year, and, while separate from the existing residential program at Gemeinschaft Home, the program operates from the same location on Mount Clinton Pike in Harrisonburg. Participants are subject to ongoing drug and alcohol screens and receive individual case management, counseling, and referrals to other community services.
Residence Life Coordinator, Jumar Peterson, has taken on the role of managing the new DRC, which is based on a cognitive-behavioral therapy model. The program embodies a life-recovery approach, and participants address a range of issues, from interpersonal communication and family relationships, to anger management and addiction.
Individuals are referred to outside professional resources, particularly in cases where medical treatment for mental health and/or substance abuse is necessary, but also for mentorship and employment opportunities.
Jasmine Gray, the program assistant explains that each participant receives an individualized case plan, based on his or her level of need. For example, some individuals must check in daily, while others report once a week, but all participants are screened for drugs and alcohol and required to attend group counseling sessions. Gray adds that case plans include additional directives from court services, such as an order for a participant to complete the Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP) or a number of community service hours.
Participants started arriving the first week of January, and so far, the program has enrolled a total of ten individuals—five women (age 20-25), and five men (age 20-45). At this point, no one has been terminated from the program. Examples of actions that could result in a dismissal include failing a drug and/or alcohol screen, missing a required meeting with a case manager, and being charged with another crime.
Sharon Ringgold, the executive director of Gemeinschaft Home, expects the number of participants entering the program to increase over the next several months, as the referral process for enrollment is refined and more judges order the Day Reporting Center as a viable alternative to incarceration for some offenders.
Ringgold also anticipates the need for greater building capacity and a larger staff to manage the program in the near future. She is proud to say that Gemeinschaft Home is well-equipped to serve a significant number of individuals in the community who need help more than a jail cell.