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This Week’s LION: American Rescue Workers Fresh Start Program

There is an old, old saying that is better to give a hand up than a hand out. It is a simple saying, but it is a challenge to implement. A good example is the work of the American Rescue Workers (ARW) and their support to men and women who have just been released from

There is an old, old saying that is better to give a hand up than a hand out. It is a simple saying, but it is a challenge to implement. A good example is the work of the American Rescue Workers (ARW) and their support to men and women who have just been released from prison. In the past, it was well known that the ARW provided a 30-day emergency shelter for the homeless. Unfortunately, many of those who stayed at the shelter found that after the 30 days, they were back exactly where they started from.

Cleveland Way, Shelter Director for ARW, knew that there had to be a better way to serve these individuals seeking to make a break from their past and get a fresh start in their life. On April 1st of this year, Cleveland launched just such a program called Fresh Start. Instead of a 30-day respite, this is a nine to twelve month curriculum with transitional phases, designed to move individuals and families out of poverty into self-sufficiency.

Imagine a guy named Larry (just to grab a name out of the air) who has served a couple of years in state prison for drug related offenses, and now has been released but has no where to go. Larry meets with Director Cleveland Way or Housing Coordinator/Case Worker LeTricia Scutching who would discuss with him what resources he needs to become independent (job, housing, etc.). They will identify needs and barriers, focusing on what Larry needs to become stable medically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

If Larry agrees to participate in the program, he gets a bed at the Day to Day Emergency Shelter. For the first 30 days, he will be restricted to a one block radius unless he has appointments. If Larry has no income, he will be given $5 for the week, $10 for the next week, $15 for the third and finally a maximum of $20, which will continue each week as long as he is in the program without any outside income. This is not a 30-day program, but a day to day program. As long as Larry works on the steps that lead to the goals, he “earns” another day. If he stalls, he is given a 48-hour exit date.

Larry is being guided forward for 90 days toward the practices and skills. that are needed for employment, but also for life itself. Beyond the obvious skill training, it also includes learning how to ask for help, how to respond in a positive manner, curbing cursing, treating women equally and not as objects — all are part of the holistic approach of Fresh Start.

Working at the American Rescue Workers is an integral part of the program that helps get Larry and those like him get into a habit of working. There are nine area employers that have partnered to accept applications from those who have gone through this screening process. If Larry should get a job, he agrees to give back a percentage of his funds that will be used for paying fines, court costs, child support, etc., but also used to save up for rent and housing deposit. Ideally, Larry will continue for at least four to five months, working and saving while continuing to stay at ARW.
When Larry reaches a goal of $1500, he is ready to graduate from the program. Six landlords have agreed to partner with ARW, and as a graduation present, Larry will receive an additional $500 and furniture for his apartment. Further, several banks have agreed to allow Larry to open a bank account.

Those who are only looking for a bed and not willing to commit to the program are usually gone after the first few days, but for those who stick with it there is a 89% success rate. If they go completely through the program for nine months, they will have a job, an apartment, money in the bank, and a support group that can count on. Cleveland Way and his staff at American Rescue Workers have created a program that goes beyond just helping, to changing behaviors that can lead to personal success.

For those in the community that would like to help with employment or housing opportunities, or have other resources that they believe can be of assistance, please contact Kendra Park, Community Engagement Coordinator for American Rescue Workers at kendra@arswilliamsport.org or call her at 570-323-8401, Ext 119. Fresh Start is doing the work, but they could also use a hand as well.

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