Grantee Spotlight: The Reentry Initiative

Contributed by Deborah Simmons
Founder and board member, The Reentry Initiative – a grantee of the Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund Boulder County
Deborah also serves on the Board of Trustees of your Community Foundation
The Reentry Initiative (TRI) was originally founded to support women reentering Boulder County from incarceration. Toward this mission, TRI begins working with women inside prison to build relationships and skills that will increase their chances of success on the outside.
Our evidence-based program model spans two to three years, from pre-release programming inside Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF) through attainment of self-sufficiency on the outside. Services inside the women’s prison include addressing risky behavior patterns; trauma-informed clinical counseling; and transition planning prior to release. Our post-release model includes provision of comprehensive basic needs on the outside under the guidance of highly trained case managers at our Welcome Back Center; as well as housing for up to three women in our apartment rented through Inn Between in Longmont. Others get housing support through vouchers and links to felon-friendly landlords.
Since its establishment in late 2016, TRI’s mission has expanded. In Longmont, at TRI’s Welcome Back Center, we serve both male and female parolees released from the Colorado Department of Corrections coming back to Boulder County through parole. In normal times, there are approximately 250 men and women released annually from DOC through Longmont parole. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people being released and referred to us is expanding dramatically each week. In the last two weeks, we have completed intakes for more than 10 new individuals and supplied thousands of dollars’ worth of hygiene, food, clothing items, and vouchers for housing and transportation. The Colorado Department of Corrections is releasing hundreds from facilities weekly, and we are doing our part to stabilize those folks coming back to our community. 
Under normal circumstances, even with TRI’s help, parolees have many barriers to overcome to get jobs and housing. Now, the options have narrowed, making survival more precarious. Support from the Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund Boulder County has provided the means to transform the lives of people who are often forgotten, and who have to fight daily against feelings of shame and hopelessness.
We’re seeing a surge now, but the needs are going to continue during the time it takes for a person to become self-sufficient. This is a process that lasts several years for this fragile and vulnerable population. Even with all their best efforts and continued employment, one medical need or other basic need hitting their budgets – along with work hours being cut back – can throw someone into a cash flow emergency. With TRI’s help, we can prevent our clients from becoming homeless, and teach them the skills they need to stretch their budgets and to manage their money wisely.
This past week, Hannah, our Program Manager, picked up a woman at DWCF with whom we have been working this past year. Without TRI – and our donors and our supporters – this participant would have been released into the unknown world of a pandemic with nothing and no one. We picked her up at the gate of the Denver women’s prison with a smile and an air hug (in the name of social distancing), took her to parole, to drug testing, and also provided a Welcome Backpack, supplied through donations from Community Foundation. We also were blessed to provide her the funds for basic essentials like underwear, socks, and a pair of shoes. For her first meal, she chose IHOP cereal pancakes (curb-side pickup). We then gave her a ride to her new living arrangements.
She told us that she’s been released before, but got nothing like the support she received from us during her incarceration and now after her release. She said she wouldn’t know what to do if it weren’t for us, especially considering the unprecedented crisis we are in. Everything she owns is in her Welcome Backpack and the bag of stuff she brought with her from prison.
Note: Like FOCUS Reentry – also a grantee of the foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund Boulder County – TRI seeks to facilitate the transition from incarceration to a new life. But TRI serves a different population with different services. TRI serves parolees from Colorado Department of Corrections, whereas FOCUS serves individuals exiting from the Boulder County Jail, supporting them through essential mentoring services.