Ken Bukowski, a volunteer with Welcome Home, made arrangements with ATTIC Correctional Services to take Russ to his mother’s home. Bukowski later worked with a friend to help Russ take his driver’s exam.
“They seem like small things to people who have been outside, but it was a big thing to me,” said Russ. “I came out a little sour about society. I needed to do some time for what I had done.
Diocese offers training sessions
A training session for anyone interested in assisting someone re-entering the community is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Feb. 18, in Bona Hall on the Diocese of Green Bay campus in Allouez. Registrations are due by Feb. 10. The cost is $5 if prepaid or $7 at the door. The training is partially funded by the Bishop’s Appeal. Mail payment and registration to: Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, P.O. Box 1506, Green Bay, WI 54305-1506. A training session will also be offered in the spring.
When I came out I had an attitude that people didn’t care.”
The mission of Welcome Home, a program based at Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Ashwaubenon, is to provide recently-released men and women with emotional, physical, financial and social support for successful re-entry into the community. New releases are referred to the program by department of corrections agents, jail staff, community agencies or family members.
“Welcome Home is needs-based not faith-based,” said Orrie Kotecki, a former probation and parole agent who serves as program facilitator. “It doesn’t mean that people who volunteer don’t have a faith background because they do, but we don’t preach and we don’t teach. We just do.”
Helping people feel worthy
“We move from that shame and that blame and help people feel worthy because they are worthy,” added Kotecki. “You meet a lot of people who don’t feel worthy. You try to be present to them.”
The roots of Welcome Home trace back nine years ago at Nativity when Come Journey Family Support Group was formed for families that have a loved one who is incarcerated. The group meets the second Thursday of each month at the parish. A growing number of requests led to outreach to those recently released from jail or prison, said Deacon Mike Schmidt of Nativity.
“I really didn’t want to work with offenders,” he said. “I wanted to stick with families. I didn’t want to cross the bridge by word of mouth or through the diocese, but there is absolutely nobody out there who is going to help these people. There is nobody out there who provides resources for them.”
Grants help fund program
The first funding was arranged through a program at the parish. In 2009, Welcome Home received a grant from St. Norbert Abbey, and in May of 2011, the Green Bay Community Foundation provided grant money.
Welcome Home needs volunteers
Welcome Home provides mentoring and assistance in job searches, job training, housing, food, transportation and medical care and medication connections. The needs continue to grow.
“Resources, time and energies have been extremely cut,” said Kotecki. “More and more people are coming out homeless. When I was an agent, I don’t remember having anyone who had to stay at St. John’s (Homeless Shelter in Green Bay).”
“I needed help with everything,” said Shawn, a Welcome Home client. “I’m still homeless, hopping from place to place. I came out with nothing. I have three children and it’s hard to get food and have transportation. I’m having trouble getting my medication. I can turn to (Welcome Home) and they’ve been helping me.”
The needs vary with each individual. A hurdle for Eric, another client, was getting a birth certificate. He had lost all his paperwork. Bukowski helped him get two copies for $23.
“Of all the programs, this is the one that helped me the most,” said Eric, who now works full-time. “Ken would try to see what he could do within his limits.”
“It doesn’t take a million dollars to get people on their feet,” said Bukowski. “I wish we had it. They don’t have birth certificates, IDs. They need bus passes, telephones, winter hats. You are not talking a lot of money per person.”
No duplication of services
Welcome Home tries not to duplicate what other organizations or agencies provide, but refers clients to those services. Funds in the program are protected, explained Deacon Schmidt.
“If they need money for a bus pass, we give them a bus pass,” he said. “If they need an ID, we go with them to do that. If they need a voucher for gas, we don’t give them money. I will go with a person and use my credit card for gas. The needs-based is very specific. We self-protect the program so it’s not being abused.”
New clients first meet with Kotecki. They are given kits put together by the parish social concerns group. One kit features personal hygiene items. Another is stocked with stamps, envelopes, paper and pens. They also receive a bus route booklet and map.
Three goals are established at the initial interview: finding a stable residency, monitoring sobriety and medications, and taking steps to get a job.
“You come out labeled and it’s hard to get people to open the door for you,” said Russ, who is now employed. “I had a really tough time finding a job because I had such a space in my resume. I couldn’t get the door opened to talk to people. I don’t hide from what happened, but I need to explain it.”
Those who served jail or prison time often face prejudices, said Kotecki. She encourages people in society to recognize that all people are connected.
“That is certainly a message in the Gospel,” she said. “We need to focus on our connectedness instead of how we are different. We are all walking a journey.”
Carrie Arnold, chaplain for Brown County Jail Ministries, said the community suffers when people are incarcerated.
“The community isn’t able to reap the benefits of the gifts and talents of these people,” she said. “Without them, we are diminished.”
“We are putting a face on this population,” said Kotecki. “You put a face and a heart on them and people can’t keep them out anymore.”