Letter from Executive Director Paul Solomon
We are wrapping up a very exciting and busy year at Sponsors. In 2015, we’ve helped nearly 400 people successfully transition from incarceration back into the community, with the combined efforts of dedicated staff, treatment, housing and quality partnerships with community organizations and Parole and Probation. In addition, we’ve assisted hundreds more in our Reentry Resource Center and Mentoring program.
Here are some highlights of the year:
Our newest housing development, The Oaks, is moving ahead according to plan. The Oaks is a 54-unit apartment complex that will offer permanent housing to people who have successfully completed our transitional housing programs, including veterans, seniors and those with disabilities. This project is a partnership between Sponsors, HACS A and Lane County Parole and Probation and will provide much needed long-term/permanent housing to people who have a difficult time, due to their criminal histories, finding decent, affordable housing. We plan to break ground in the spring of 2016 and anticipate completion in mid-2017.
We have convened a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) for The Oaks that meets monthly. Committee members include elected officials, city councilor Chris Pryor and county commissioner Faye Stewart; representatives from Eugene Police Department and Lane County Parole and Probation; three neighborhood representatives; someone from the Human Services Commission; and co-chairs: Rick Duncan and David Schuman. In addition, Richard Greene and Richie Weinman (Richard’s backup) are representing Sponsors on the committee. The body provides a chance for input and for neighbors and community members to better understand the project.
Earlier this year, Lane County received a federal grant through Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) to create a program that will reduce the number of people from the county who go to prison for property and drug crimes.
Using the CJC funds, Lane County created our new SB 416 program, modeled after a program that started in Marion County and was the brainchild of Lane County’s former Public Defender, Ross Shepard and former Lane County DA, Doug Harcleroad. The program is a partnership between the Lane County District Attorney’s Office, Lane County Parole and Probation, Sponsors and Emergence drug and alcohol treatment. We have dedicated three transitional housing beds between the men’s and women’s programs to aid this high-risk population. Additionally, every client will be assigned a Peer Recovery Mentor through our Mentoring Program. We have recently hired two Peer Recovery Mentors – individuals who are in recovery themselves and have received training and certification – to assist with the program. Historically, we have worked with people on the back end of the system as they are being released from prison or jail. This program allows us to provide interventions on the front end to keep people from going to prison. Very exciting.
In October, we learned we had been awarded a three-year, $1 million Mentorship Grant under the Second Chance Act. This grant will allow us to provide services to 450 people in total over three years, but there will be big changes to how we run the mentorship program. Because the grant includes a randomized controlled trial (RCT), half of the people will receive Sponsors transitional housing, wraparound services and mentoring and the other half will receive only Sponsors transitional housing and wraparound services. The RCT will provide a variety of data points to compare how the two groups fare in an effort to isolate and evaluate the mentoring services. We have contracted with University of Washington School of Social Work Research Director Mark Eddy to be the Principal Investigator on the grant. We have worked with Dr. Eddy in the past and are extremely excited about this unique opportunity to add to what is a very weak body of research and literature on adult mentoring. Dr. Eddy will be joined by Dr. Jean Kjellstrand, a research professor at both Columbia University’s School of Social Work and the Center for Equity Promotion at the University of Oregon’s College of Education. We hope to begin the program in March 2016.
In November, the Sponsors Mentorship Program was declared a Quality Based Mentoring Program through The Institute for Youth Success at Education Northwest (formerly Oregon Mentors). This means Sponsors has met their standards to be considered an evidence-based program with the highest quality of research-driven mentoring services.
Our Men’s and Women’s Programs continue to be full and we have added new services, including a parenting class for men and women that meets at our downtown campus, as well as free legal clinics and financial literacy classes.
I am extremely pleased with our talented and dedicated employees who make all of this possible. Our efforts depend not only upon their hard work, but also upon your generous and continued support. YOU are, ultimately, what makes Sponsors a success.
With all best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year, I am sincerely yours,
Journey to success
Brett Yater was sitting in the Columbia River Correctional Institution thinking about his future. Addiction had separated him from his family and landed him in prison. He was chairing the AA 12-step meetings and regularly attending counseling to work through issues related to his upbringing, as well as the guilt he experienced from walking away from his family.
Six months prior to his release, Brett heard about and Sponsors, Inc. through friends in prison and wrote a letter asking for admission.
“I knew that Sponsors was a place where I could put my two feet on solid ground and receive the services I needed to integrate back into the community,” he said. “The most important end goal for me was to once again be part of my children’s lives.”
During his three months at Sponsors, Brett found employment through the Reentry Resource Center and started school. And then he became active in the Mentorship Program.
“My mentor allowed me to break away from the day-to-day grind and give me a chance to reboot by showing me how people in a positive, healthy relationship relax,” he says. Brett still stays in touch with his mentor – they’ve become great friends and continue to spend time together.
Brett’s experience at Sponsors had such an impact on his life that he was thrilled to be hired as Sponsors Mentorship Program Case Manager, where he is using his own positive experiences to help others develop healthy relationships and lifestyle activities. Each time he creates a successful match with a volunteer mentor and program mentee, he feels ecstatic.
And that’s not all he has to celebrate. Brett is now in contact with his boys, seeing – and fathering – them regularly.
“Every day I wake up and I just feel that all this is amazing,” he says. “To think of where I was a few short years ago compared to where I am today, it’s unbelievable.”
A splash of art
A new vibrant splash of art now overlooks Sponsors property at Roosevelt Crossing. This past summer, Sponsors staff, clients and community volunteers participated in a community mural painting project that took place over several weeks. Eugene artist Kari Johnson sketched the mural outline onto the side of a building on the back lot of the Mentorship House. Excited participants picked up paintbrushes and hopped onto scaffolding to color it in, using a guide provided by Johnson.
The building was donated by John and Mamie Arnold, who joined staff, residents, volunteers and community members at an October mural unveiling party.
The mural is just one of many projects Sponsors has undertaken to beautify the property, including planting trees, building more garden space, renovating an existing building to create a handsome new bike storage facility, and continuing to brighten the corner with eye-catching landscaping.
Innovative therapy proves successful
Volunteer mentors matched with Sponsors residents learn as much as they can about their mentee’s lives and activities. But they drew a blank when their matches mentioned the “MRT group” they were participating in. To help mentors understand the innovative therapy and further support their mentees, Deputy Director Nick Crapser and Men’s Case Management Director LaMonte Morgan held a training for them in November.
Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) is a cognitive-behavioral program for substance abuse treatment and for people involved in the criminal justice system. Gregory Little, Ed.D. and Kenneth Robinson, Ed.D. developed the step-based program in 1985, which combines education, counseling, and exercises to foster moral development. Participants must be honest and open with their peers, who determine whether or not the individual is ready to progress to each new step. In that regard, it encourages team building and camaraderie among participants.
To give the volunteer mentors a feel for what it’s like to be in MRT, Crapser and Morgan had them try to account for each hour of the past week. Mentors were then asked to consider what they wanted to spend more and less time doing.
“Spending less time on social media or on their phones and more time with family were answers that resonated strongly with the group,” says Crapser.
Dwayne “Sparky” Roberts, a retired family physician and dedicated volunteer mentor attended the training. “I was impressed with how comprehensive it is,” he says, adding, “Your peers get to say whether you advance or not. It’s hard to fool your peers.”
Approximately fifty percent of Sponsors residents are assigned to MRT treatment, based upon an intake assessment conducted when they enter the program. Seven Sponsors employees are certified MRT facilitators.
“The majority of residents who stick with MRT find the group useful,” says Morgan. “They say it makes them see how their behavior affected others in the past and how they can change and become productive members of society.”
In the sessions, participants move through steps that help them to confront the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that have held them back. They are asked to assess the relationship they have with family, friends and themselves. Positive behavior and habits are reinforced, helping to give them higher self-esteem and a positive identity as they develop higher stages of moral reasoning.
Many of Sponsors program participants have not been in situations where they’ve had to plan their time and make decisions about prioritizing activities. For example, finishing lengthy job applications and following directions while on the job are two areas some program participants fall short on.
But MRT can help them with that.
“MRT has a rigid, proscribed curriculum that teaches clients to be accountable and follow directions,” says Crapser.
Research shows that people who participate in MRT have rearrest and reincarcertion rates 25 to 75 percent lower than those who do not participate.
“The premise of MRT is that change comes from within,” says Morgan. “If you can change your thoughts, attitudes and beliefs, you can change your behavior.”