Women’s program for after prison readjustment receives grant

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A program aimed at helping women get back on their feet after being released from jail is getting some extra funding help. The Women's Resource Center's New Beginnings this month received a $52,000 dollar grant from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, and its timing couldn't have been more perfect.

The program has helped hundreds of inmates over the past few years. The organization said that the money will help keep New Beginnings offering valuable resources.

Women's Resource Center's initial federal grant to run the New Beginnings program ran out last September. Since then, they've relied mostly on private donations.

"(The grant) came through at exactly the right moment, because we just needed that gap funding to keep the program going," said Michelle Bryk of the center.

Workers with the program help women inside the Kent County Correctional Facility readjust after being released from custody. Since the start of the program in the fall of 2012, they've helped about 250 women, Bryk said.

"When a woman gets released, first of all, we meet her at the door," said Bryk. "We are there so she knows that we are not going away. We were really telling the truth: we are going to be there for her."

The program provides job training, including the use of computers at their center. The program also provides clothes so the women can dress to impress for interviews.

Another part of the program includes behavioral training, dealing with conflict resolution issues, and getting along in a group.

Volunteers from the community help mentor the women on a one-on-one basis, "so that then when she comes out, she's got one person in the community that she knows she can ask questions of, she can touch base with, she can just talk to when she's having a hard day," said Bryk.

Women's Resource Center has been around for 42 years and has helped about 40,000 women.

Inmates start the New Beginnings program while still behind bars, but it's when they get out when they face the real test.

"Some of the big challenges are those people who she has gotten into trouble with before being willing to throw her a big party when she gets out, so making a different choice than she would have made in the past almost hits her when she walks out the door," said Bryk.

Bryk said that on average 62 percent of female inmates return to jail. Women in the New Beginnings program return at a rate of about 20 percent. That's a pattern they hope to continue in Kent County.

The center teaches "how to go out into the world and not be taken advantage of again and not find people who are going to hurt you but look for those people who are going to help you and support you in life," said Bryk.

There is no time limit for women to stay in the New Beginnings program, and center personnel will be there for as long as a former inmate needs them.

So far, the program has been able to help about 65 percent of their clients find jobs.

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