They came hoping to make a difference in a troubled life. Some have friends or family members who are or have been incarcerated. Others are called to serve people that many prefer to avoid. All gained a better understanding of the challenges and needs facing men and women who are recently released from jail.
These are potential volunteers who desire to make a difference in their community by participating on a Community Life Group coordinated by the Lake County Jail Ministry (LCJM). As LCJM moves ahead with plans to launch its first Community Life Groups later this summer, its leadership is informing potential community volunteers through information and training sessions. “We recognize that this is a unique ministry,” says Gary Brooks, LCJM’s Director of After Care. “It requires compassion and grace and a willingness to be enriched by new and unexpected relationships.”
The 1.5-hour information sessions emphasize the value of relationship in helping former inmates reenter the community after incarceration. The Life Group model brings together five community members – men and women – to meet as a group with one formerly incarcerated individual once a week for one year. “The idea is for these people to do life together,” says Brooks. “They offer their own life experiences and connections to the former inmate as they would to a family friend or neighbor. It is our hope that over time and through deepening relationships, the former inmate experiences real, family-like support to help them overcome every-day challenges, like finding a steady job and transportation to get there.”
Brooks believes that such support is vital to successful reentry. “There should be no judgment or shame,” he says. “Rather, we encourage listening and understanding. Our training program won’t create experts, but it provides interpersonal communication tools to help the process.”
Brooks and the Community Life Program team are projecting to launch 4-6 Community Life Groups by this fall. If you are interested in joining a Community Life Group, you can start by filling out an application form, which can be found on our website at: www.lcjailmin.org/application. A mandatory 8-hour training course will be held on Saturday, July 13. You can register here: www.lcjailmin.org/events