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.