Neillsville, WI (OnFocus) A Clark County program aims to give newly released inmates the resources they need to make a new start.
“One of the problems that we have is when people get released from the Clark County Jail. They’re put back into society and some of them don’t have a ride home, or they don’t have the clothing to get them back,” said Chief Jim Mankowski, Neillsville Police Department.
Through the program NewStart, former inmates can chat with volunteers about the resources available that can help get them on their feet, and be provided clothing, food, and a safe place to go.
The idea for the program was put forward by Judy Morrow, house coordinator at the House of Mercy women’s homeless shelter in Loyal. “Some of our women come from the jail or from treatment centers, and I just always felt they didn’t get enough support or mentoring when they get out — and that’s how they end up back in,” she said.
In 2017 she met with Father Bryce and the social concerns ministry at Saint Anthony, Holy Family, and St. Mary parishes to start up a jail ministry. They consulted with The Open Door of Marathon County, a charitable service for former inmates which emulated their goals for a Clark County program.
While it’s taken plenty of hard work to ensure the success of the new endeavor, as the program grows in awareness the hope is that it can continue to grow and offer assistance to those who have been incarcerated.
“Once they get in that cycle, it’s so hard for them to get out,” Morrow said. “They have no money, lots of times their families have given up on them, lots of times they’re homeless. There’s so many things, so many walls, so many barriers. We need to begin to cut those barriers down.”
The NewStart program can help individuals find employment through the Workforce Resource job center in Clark County. As director of Neillsville Area Food Pantry, Morrow is able to use the space for NewStart. Clothes are provided through the Auxiliary Thrift Shop in Neillsville.
Giving second chances is the theme of the NewStart program. “We try to look ahead, not behind. What has happened is done, but the goals and the changes we make are for the future,” said Morrow.
As the program grows, Morrow hopes to gain partnerships with employers and landlords to provide that second chance.
“We need to be there to help each other so that they know there’s people here who will help them, and hopefully not judge them because they’ve made mistakes,” she said. “Does that mean every person we talk to is instantly going to be an angel? No, but maybe we can help them by letting them know that somebody is there to support them and give them hope.”
Inmates are given an intake sheet to check off what type of support they will need once released, and from there volunteers will connect them to the right resources.
Morrow assisted four women who would be homeless once out of jail by entering them into the House of Mercy’s Beyond Shelter program, which focuses on taking steps toward independence.
NewStart is looking for volunteers and partners to help grow its mission. “There’s a whole lot more we want to do in the years to come,” Morrow said.
For more information about NewStart and how to help, call 715-743-2843.