Where Are They Now? Former resident Spotlight
Harrisonburg, VA - Donte Malone arrived at Gemeinschaft Home early this summer, and he successfully completed the program in August. Now, he has returned to the Norfolk/Tidewater area, moved into a new apartment and found temporary employment as a landscaper, while he searches for a full-time position.
The transition from prison, to Gemeinschaft Home, to living independently has included both successes and setbacks. For example, one of the greatest challenges he faced during his time in the program was the passing of his mother. However, Malone’s passion for writing, a practice he established a number of years ago while incarcerated, gives him an emotional outlet as well as a way to reflect on his life experiences.
Shortly before his release from prison, Malone wrote down a collection of original adages, sayings, and quotations, that encapsulate his life philosophy and serve as a springboard for conversations into a range of subjects, including parenting, manhood, and addiction.
He had hoped to someday publish the collection, using an oil painting that a fellow inmate created—that depicts Malone watching over his children on a sunny day at the beach—as the book’s cover. One of the greatest successes Malone achieved during his time in the program (with the help of a devoted intern) was the printing of his quotations—in the form of small 20-page booklet—with the oil painting as the cover art.
So far, he has sold dozens of copies to individuals interested in hearing about his life’s journey, including his experiences with addiction and incarceration. At first, he called the collection “My Father’s Wisdom,” referring to Malone’s perspective as a parent, but ultimately, he decided to change the title to “My Mother’s Wisdom,” as a tribute to her, especially because much of the knowledge he shares originated with her.
He is currently working on another collection of writings. For more information, visit his Facebook page.
“If you don’t free your mind, your body will stay locked up.”
“Sometimes it’s more difficult to open a book than it is to read it.”
“To lean on forgiveness, you have to stand on understanding.”
“If you can’t get along with yourself, why would you think anyone else could?”
Last spring, undergraduate students studying social work, helped develop a grant proposal awarding $5,000 to Gemeinschaft Home.
By Paige Riddle (summer intern)
Harrisonburg, VA - Gemeinschaft Home recently participated in a collaborative grant-writing process with students from the Grant Writing for Agencies class at James Madison University. The process allows groups of students to join local nonprofit organizations in applying for a $5,000 grant. The grant funding comes from the Learning by Giving Foundation, which was founded by Doris Buffet.
The main goal of the foundation is to engage students at institutions of higher education in the United States about philanthropy. Some other university partners of the foundation include Columbia University, Ohio University, and Stanford University.
Each class distributes $10,000 to nonprofits in their community with the grant writing processes they deem appropriate for their learning goals.
I joined two other students, Hayley Jenkins and Courtney Fennel, to collaborate with Gemeinschaft Home. Public Relations and Outreach coordinator, Dr. Jennifer Jacovitch, introduced us to the organization and served as our primary contact for the process. My experience with Gemeinschaft Home was incredibly eye-opening. I did not expect to feel so welcomed and familiar at the organization after only a few meetings, and I certainly did not expect to feel so attached to the work we created together.
Dr. Jacovitch shared her expertise with the population and the organization, but she trusted us with the actual writing of the grant. Our proposal focused on a College Outreach Program to expand the organization’s community presence. Our classmates were extremely receptive to this concept, and we placed first out of nineteen organizations, awarding Gemeinschaft Home $5000 to implement the proposed program!
College Day Open House
The majority of students in the Grant Writing for Agencies class do not see the results of their proposed grant project, as the funding is distributed after the class ends. My internship at Gemeinschaft Home this past summer allowed me to see the plans shift and settle with the needs of Gemeinschaft Home and the community. Our current plan is to host an Open House for young adults in the Harrisonburg community and creating materials for promotion and educational presentations.
The Open House will take place at Gemeinschaft Home on Friday, September 21 from 11:00am to 4:00pm. The goal of this event is to reach out to college-age adults who are interested in learning about the population we serve, the nonprofit sector, and Gemeinschaft Home. We will offer food and games, dialogue with staff and residents, and information on ways to serve and advocate for ex-offenders.
The main idea behind the Open House is to address the stigma that is associated with ex-offenders by offering college students like me an opportunity to engage comfortably with members of the population. I shared with Gemeinschaft staff how surprising it was to walk onto the Gemeinschaft property and immediately feel safe—despite some early preconceived notions and fears.
I want others to experience this important shift in perception, too. This is a rare opportunity for many to confront their assumptions prior to their entrance into the workforce. More importantly, it is an opportunity for students to connect with a significant portion of every community that needs advocacy and to identify ways to get more involved.
In addition to its existing programs for individuals just recently released or diverted from incarceration,
Gemeinschaft Home now provides a vital source of information and support to area citizens.
To learn more, visit our website.
Harrisonburg, VA - Over the summer, Gemeinschaft Home launched its newest program, Connection Points, a service that is free and open to the public and offers a unique resource in the local community. The program provides a safe, educational, and supportive environment for individuals who know (care for) someone affected by addiction.
Such individuals are often discouraged from talking openly about their situation, and they battle stigma, judgement, and stereotypes as they attempt to discuss the addiction of a loved one or to just reach out for help.
Connection Points is Gemeinschaft Home’s response to those oppressive patterns, and a key feature of the program is its confidentiality policy, which asks participants to keep the names and dialogue exchanged in a session within the confines of each meeting. Creators of the program, Jumar Peterson and Brandi Smith, blend their own personal experience with evidence-based practice, to offer a curriculum that facilitates a greater understanding of addiction among the program’s attendees. While stressing the philosophy “addiction does not discriminate,” they encourage participants to take an active role in the group, which include sharing personal experiences or choosing to abstain from sharing while listening to others. There is also ample time in each session for attendees to ask questions and to respond to discussion on a range of relevant topics.
New members are welcome any time, and we strongly encourage everyone—not only those who are struggling with a loved one’s addition—to take advantage of this vital community resource. Connection Points is free and open to the public. Sessions are held every other Wednesday evening, from 5:00pm to 6:00pm, and meet in the Bender Building, located on Gemeinschaft Home property (behind the main house). Parking is available.
Following the Journey of James Schultz
Harrisonburg, VA - Entering the front door of Gemeinschaft Home, visitors first encounter the front office, a reception area just off the main foyer. There is a shift supervisor on duty at the front desk, twenty-four hours a day, ready to handle any issue that arises.
Generally speaking, the shift supervisor keeps order in the house and oversees the daily movements of residents. More specific tasks include: fielding all phone calls coming into the organization, conducting building/grounds inspections, administering drug/alcohol screens, and receiving guests and visitors. It’s a job that requires patience, flexibility, and the capacity to problem-solve on the spot.
James Schultz has been a shift supervisor for about four years, and he approaches the job with a blend of humor and humility. His gentle demeanor, balanced with his direct style of communication, give him an ethos of authority but not overbearingness, and he maintains a solid rapport with residents and staff members alike.
The degree of commitment and patience that Schultz demonstrates in his work is reflective of his own past experiences, which include being a former resident of Gemeinschaft Home. Understanding their perspectives, based on firsthand knowledge, not only informs how he interacts with the residents, but also confirms his belief in the efficacy of Gemeinschaft Home’s mission.
When Schultz was released from prison in the late 1990s, he explains that he was given a choice—to return to his hometown and live with his grandparents or to apply for the program at Gemeinschaft Home. While he was incarcerated, he had heard fellow inmates speak about the program offered at Gemeinschaft Home, and he was motivated by the prospect of working on his own, becoming independent and supporting himself.
He knew that living with his grandparents would create an environment in which he would not be forced to work or support himself. Not because of a toxic situation—but exactly the opposite—he would have loving family members to provide unconditional support, yet they also would be enabling him to stay in the same spot, becoming more dependent and less capable of self-support.
He points out that he was grateful for his family’s support, but that after “everything that I had put them through, it was time I learned to stand on my own with a solid foundation and move forward with my life.” His decision to complete the Gemeinschaft Home program was crucial, adding, “I was able to obtain employment and maintain keeping it, to budget my finances, and to start my life on a new—more promising—path for the future.”
Then, in July 2013, Schultz faced another choice. He was living in Buford Georgia. He had lost employment, depleted his savings, and was struggling to keep up with his bills. He recognized that he needed help, and the place where he had gotten back on his feet more than a decade earlier—Gemeinschaft Home—came to mind. He was unsure about what to expect, but he took a chance and reached out to the Executive Director, Sharon Ringgold.
She offered him a bed in the Self-Pay program, which would allow him to live at Gemeinschaft Home again, to participate in the structured environment of the house, to find steady employment, and to get back on his feet. His choice to return paid off, and soon thereafter, he moved into a nearby apartment. During this time, Schultz had established a positive relationship with the residents and staff of Gemeinschaft Home, so much so that Ringgold invited him to apply for the position of shift supervisor.
Today, he brings years of insight to the job, to the great benefit of every resident who arrives in the program. Of course, there are challenges in every job, and things are no different for Schultz: “The biggest challenge is to see and know that a resident is on the wrong path, but still trying to help get him back on track,” and feeling unsuccessful, adding that “they have to want it for themselves, and all I can do is try to help guide them.”
At the end of the day, Schultz urges residents to see the bigger picture, to understand those behaviors that lead in a positive direction versus those that lead back to incarceration. Schultz explains, “I always tell new intakes that this house has rules and regulations that they may dislike or even disagree with, but the overall structure is there to help them get into a healthy daily routine that will help them transition.”
The greatest reward for Schultz is to see a former resident who is transitioning well and is grateful for Gemeinschaft Home’s role in that process. Speaking from personal experience, Schultz can offer residents who have completed the program the following advice: “I say just because you’re exiting doesn’t mean the house will abandon you; you can call or stop by to talk to anyone if you feel you might be struggling. We are here to help you even after exiting the program.”
Schultz is proud of his successful transition but is quick to say that he is far from perfect, “I still make mistakes, and I’m still learning as I continue my own journey.” His willingness to acknowledge his own humanity and that of others is what makes him a treasured asset to Gemeinschaft Home and to the lives he touches every day.
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.