Having options

News | June 27, 2024

People deserve second chances, but for those who have been incarcerated or have a criminal record, getting those second chances can be difficult. St. Paul provides mission support to Safer Foundation, whose mission is to help justice-involved persons, their families, and communities get an equal and fair second chance.

In 2024, St. Paul will give $3,000 to support the work of the Safer Foundation. Those funds are made possible because of generous giving to the Daily Ministry Fund.

In Chicago in the early 1970s, Bernie Curran and Gus Wilhelmy, both with ministerial backgrounds, saw a need in their community. People who were impacted by the criminal justice system, especially those returning to their community after incarceration, struggled to find work. And without work, these individuals lacked stability and often ended up back in the legal system. Thus, Safer Foundation was established and would open the doors to its Quad Cities’ office just four years later.

Safer Foundation is the only social services agency in the Quad Cities that works exclusively with individuals who have had dealings with the criminal or legal system in some way. They may have an arrest record but have never been convicted of a crime, they may be a teenager hanging with the wrong crowd, or they may be returning to their community, their home, after some form of incarceration. Regardless of their background, Safer Foundation works to give these individuals options. Brian Monroe is the assistant director of the Quad Cities chapter of Safer Foundation.

“Whether it’s a 16-year-old who’s become disengaged in school or a 60-year-old just out of prison, we work with both and everything in between. It’s presenting people with options. Getting a job and getting involved in the community following incarceration involves clearing a lot of hurdles and barriers. Obtaining employment for these individuals is the core mission for all we serve,” Brian said. “A job provides stability, a pathway to finding a home, to staying out of further legal troubles and moving their lives forward, and to contributing to the community. But to lead the healthiest lives, we also found a holistic approach was needed.”

Re-entry programs offer wrap-around services to address needs and connect individuals with resources like learning basic life management skills, adequate mental health and substance abuse services, and even obtaining proper identification. Local partnerships help fill many gaps in funding and much-needed services. United Way, One-Eighty, Humility Homes, and many others help.
There are 1,500 justice-impacted individuals in Scott County alone that are unemployed or underemployed. Safer Foundation does its best to help as many clients as it can, but the needs, especially housing, are often greater than Safer Foundation can accommodate.

“Housing is the last step for stability and freedom, and it’s the number one challenge. It can take years. There are housing shortages everywhere. There’s a great need for more affordable housing and it’s difficult for our population to find affordable housing options when you have a record.”

Bianca came to Safer Foundation with few options. She was a high school and college graduate but ended up with multiple felonies. When she left prison, she was without family, home, or a job. Now, Bianca is a bus operator with the Chicago Transit Authority.

“Everything I had gained in my life, I lost. At that point, the only thing I had were the clothes on my back. I had to rebuild. People told me I wouldn’t be able to, but I was determined,” Bianca said. “When I left prison, I had no options but because of Safer Foundation, the next thing you know, I looked up and I had options. We are all products of our past, but we do not have to be prisoners of it.”

To learn more about the Safer Foundation, visit saferfoundation.org, or learn more about their local work in the Quad Cities at facebook.com/saferfoundationQC.

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