|Yavapai Reentry Project Community Coach Kay, YRP Participant Clarissa Freeman, and parole officer Hedda Fay.|
When Clarissa Freeman first found out about the Yavapai Reentry Project through a letter sent to her in prison, she was elated.
After being in jail many times, Clarissa wanted her first time in prison to be her last. But there were so many unknowns about reentering. Could she find a place to live? A job to support herself? A positive social circle?
Looking over the Yavapai Reentry Project brochure, she saw that she could get support with the tasks she feared, but it was up to her to respond. Clarissa quickly filled out the returnable post card for more information, and began the first step to make a positive change for her future.
Carissa chose to be a part of the project's Community Coach Mentorship Program. Community Coaches are volunteers who are matched with a reentering individual and provide them with support, resource information, and someone to talk to during the difficult transition from prison into the community. Coaches must complete a two-day training going over substance abuse and recovery, motivational interviewing, barriers for people with felony records, and more. Free trainings for becoming a Coach are being held on Nov. 1-2 in Prescott, and on Nov. 8-9 in Cottonwood for anyone who is interested in volunteering. Call (928) 708-0100 to register.
The Yavapai Reentry Project first began in 2010 at a MATFORCE Roundtable event.
"We were bringing people together to talk about what projects or programs we needed in the community," said Becky Kearns, a Yavapai County Adult Probation Officer and chairwoman of the Yavapai Reentry Project.
"At my table, the topic of prisoner reentry came up, and with my job I knew the importance of trying to do something."
Kearns began hosting meetings in her living room for community members interested in starting a project. After a while, it was obvious that this was an important issue, and MATFORCE and Community Counts offered to pay the cost to hire an AmeriCorps VISTA to get the program started.
Now, over two years later, the program is showing great success. On Oct. 4, a community meeting was hosted by the Yavapai Reentry Project where Clarissa and her Community Coach, Kay Krizek, spoke of their experience working together with this project.
"I had never had a positive female role model or friend," said Clarissa. "Kay has helped me with getting clothes, finding a doctor, using resources in the community, and lent me an ear to talk to when I needed it."
Krizek was quick to respond, saying that Clarissa's success is not all because of her role as a Coach. "Clarissa wanted this change in her life and has been working hard to make sure she does well. I feel lucky to have been matched with someone who is so determined!"
There are currently seven matches of Community Coaches with people who have returned to the community, or who are still incarcerated and preparing with their coach through letter writing. More coaches are needed to meet the demand being seen by the Yavapai Reentry Project, "We get letters of interest from people every week who want to be involved in the program, but we need more Coaches to be able to match them and give them the best support possible," said Prisoner Reentry Coordinator and AmeriCorps VISTA, Becca Fealk, "With our program being completely voluntary, the people who contact us truly want to make a positive change and be a contributing member to our community -- they just need a little guidance and support to succeed."
Clarissa has been out of prison for almost four months now. She is working regularly doing construction and helps out the other women at the halfway house where she is living with substance abuse issues and daily support. The Yavapai Reentry Project has provided her with resource information and guidance with barriers, but she states that it is her Coach Kay who has helped the most, "What is the most important is having somebody believe in you, and that's what I got from Kay."
Trainings to become a Community Coach are happening from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 1-2 in Prescott, and on Nov. 8-9 in Cottonwood, and attending both days is necessary to obtain the certificate. No experience is needed to be a coach, and those with criminal histories can apply with some restrictions.
To sign up for the training, contact Becca Fealk at (928) 708-0100, or find out more information online at http://yavapaireentryproject.org.