Tuesday, October 08, 2019 - Updated: 12:59 pm
It’s an early Monday afternoon and the offices of the Foundation of HOPE on Pittsburgh’s North Side are alive with activity. Office staff are helping men and women fill out resumes and search for jobs and housing on the internet. It is much like any employment or social service agency.
But in this case, the people being being helped are facing even more obstacles than most others. They are trying to re-enter and reconnect with their communities following their incarceration.
Through the HOPE Aftercare Program they are once again seeking to become independent and productive citizens. “We walk with people so they’re not alone,” said Deacon Keith Kondrich, program director.
The interfaith program is multifaceted. It helps provide material support such as clothing, IDs, toiletries and furniture; emotional and spiritual support through one-on-one mentoring programs; assistance identifying employment opportunities; housing counseling, applications and referrals; and PIRC (Positive Initiative to Reinforce Change) support groups to address a wide range of needs.
“People don’t realize it could be their uncle, their niece, their neighbor,” said Jody Raeford, executive director of Foundation of HOPE. Deacon Kondrich said the program works to break down stereotypes and stigmas that surround those who have been incarcerated.
Both spoke of a man who had eight children, but three of his sons had been killed in gang violence. In his grief, he turned to drugs and was jailed because of an addiction that stemmed from tragedy. Many of their clients, they noted, are economically disadvantaged or have no family support.
“This is often the only place they feel respected and welcomed,” Deacon Kondrich said. People who come to HOPE Aftercare often have only the clothes on their back, he said, and immediate assistance such as IDs and clothing are so important.
People who have been incarcerated for long periods of time, he continued, have never had to apply for a job online or search for housing there. Others come from halfway houses and are trying to become independent. They need to develop the confidence to know that they can make it on their own and become part of the community again.
“It’s more than just a support or therapy group,” he said of the program. “It becomes a foundation for them to launch the next step of their lives.” It doesn’t seek to enable people, but to direct them, he noted.
A program participant noted the impact it has had on his life. “I am ready to give back to the community for a change,” he said. “To help more than take.”
Some 500 people received aid through the program in 2018, and the number is expected to double this year.
Deacon Kondrich was introduced to the program when he was working in the chaplaincy program at the Allegheny County Jail. He pointed to the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, in noting that serving the less fortunate is part of our litmus test in getting to heaven.
“It’s not me being the face of Christ to them,” he said. “It’s about them becoming the face of Christ to us.”
“It keeps us grounded,” added Raeford. “That little bit of engagement is so important.”
The program is in need of items such as toiletries, office supplies, clothing, white socks and underwear for men and women. There is also a need for backpacks. Many clients carry their possessions in plastic grocery bags. There is even a need for wallets so that people can carry their IDs.
“Things we take for granted,” Deacon Kondrich said.
Mentors are needed for those who are still in jail or who have been released. They must meet with “mentees” for at least six months and be present in a way that builds trust.
“I want to set myself up for success, and my mentor is there, ready and willing to help me,” a female mentee said.
The community can also offer help to the program by donating bus passes or hosting drives to collect clothing, toiletries and other items. They can also volunteer at the HOPE Aftercare office.
Staff members are available to visit schools, organizations or businesses that would like more information.
In addition to the HOPE Aftercare program, the Foundation of HOPE sponsors three other projects. The HOPE Diversion is a voluntary “zone-based” pre-arrest/pre-booking program that targets offenders ages 12-26, and the HOPE Chaplaincy program provides pastoral care, religious programming and other support services for inmates of all faiths. In the HOPE Pre-Release program, participants live together and meet for more than 120 hours of group work that requires full participation and the passing of a final exam.
The Foundation of HOPE has a second office in the Allegheny County Jail.
Those interested in the mentoring program, volunteering in the office or having a staff member speak to their group can get information by calling 412-321-3343 or by visiting www.foundationofhope.org.
Tax-deductible contributions may be sent to: Foundation of HOPE, c/o The Chaplain’s Office, 950 Second Ave., Pittsburgh, Pa. 15219. Donations may also be made online by visiting the Foundation of HOPE website.