After 23 years of incarceration with a desire to change

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Positive stories and notes from 2020:

John came to us after 23 years of incarceration with a desire to change but was out of touch with the work world and technology. He graduated from our program and started a new job using a bike he received from 70×7. Even when faced with unexpected challenges such as COVID-19 layoffs, he communicated with us and kept a great attitude. In April, he called to thank us again for everything we had done for him and wanted to share that his parole agent cut his tether early because he was doing so well. Recently he called again and shared with pride that he was hired in at his employer and had purchased a vehicle.

Rose and her family were solid, hard-working, middle class people with no background of incarceration. When her learning-disabled son was incarcerated as a minor for a serious offense, she was lost, hurt, embarrassed and fearful for her family and especially her teen son. Stronger Together Family Support group provided a network of people who understood her pain and concerns, a place she could speak openly, and receive needed information and resources. When her son returned home, he came to our “Change” class. Because of his special needs, we are working with a host of community resources and with Rose to make sure he is placed in a job where he can be successful and be encouraged.

A returning citizen attended one of the Reentry Networking Lunches with his caregiver. He was wheelchair-bound, homeless, living in a hotel and looking for assistance with housing. We were able to connect him at the lunch with another service provider who has the capacity to help him with housing.

At Take Charge following workshops about healthy relationships and managing emotions:
One participant put several concepts into practice. She told us about how she got upset, wanted to drink & there was opportunity, but instead she called her sponsor and other supports; she remained in recovery and was able to shift her perspective to quit complaining about not getting her way and to focus on doing what the system requires to move forward.

Quotes from Take Charge feedback forms:

“I came here not wanting to and mad but there were two sessions that really hit me. Being in a relationship I know was abusive, but never wanted to admit out loud as an abusive relationship, this has helped me come to terms with everything better. Also, the women here are incredibly strong and amazing.”

“It helps me get along with people better and keeps me trying hard. Also, I’ve learned more coping skills.”

“Hope that change is possible.”

“Learning about my life and choices I’ve made. How to make different ones.”

During the COVID19 quarantine, participants have been calling and checking in on each other. Volunteers also have been staying connected by phone to participants offering them support and encouragement. One participant’s adult child passed away during this season; the volunteer was able to provide comfort and a listening ear; this participant said later this helped her not resort to old ways of coping (drugs and alcohol) to deal with her isolation and grief.

Additional updates:

As may be expected, 70×7 Life Recovery-Grand Rapids Program Center experienced an extremely unusual Second Quarter 2020 due to the state mandated guidelines for the Covid-19 health crisis.

Although we closed our office doors on March 24, 70×7 staff worked from their homes, reaching out and supporting clients, volunteers and community partners. Staff met weekly through video conferencing during this time. On May 26, staff returned to our offices to thoroughly clean and put into place safety and social distancing measures. New policies and procedures have been issued in an effort to keep all who enter our building healthy. We reopened to clients on June 1. Change classes are again offered at our office but with a smaller participant cap and a modified Serving Together program. New Day Staffing has been working to employ graduates with our employer partners. Stronger Together Family Support Group and Take Charge Life Skills and Support group for women have been meeting via Zoom. Our Church Engagement Manager, Jonathan DePoy, has been connecting with churches for 70×7 Life Recovery – Restorative Hope program. For the health and safety of all participants, our Reentry Networking Lunches are on hold until a safer stage has been achieved locally for large group gatherings.

Due to the staggered return to work start dates for many of our community partners and referral sources, continued concern over COVID-19 health issues, and other unexpected circumstances, we have had a slower than average summer to date. We are hopeful that health statistics continually improve allowing more partner agencies and businesses to reopen thus generating more referrals to 70×7. Earlier this year, we were in the process of launching our new Housing Initiative with community partners; we currently have some homes in place and are working again to grow this program; housing is a difficult challenge and it became even more critical during the COVID-19 crisis. We are perpetually striving to grow our programs and improve our services; we consistently challenge ourselves to seek new ways to do this.

Outreach and Capacity Building

After months of hard work and redesign, our website was relaunched in May 2020: This website also features our new 70×7 Life Recovery logo. Direct mailings were sent to our supporters sharing this information as well as providing an update on 70×7 during the COVID-19 shutdown. We’ve been reaching out to community partners via phone and through teleconferencing and look forward to more direct contact again in the future.

Submitted by Cheryl Wyma
Diaconal Summer Ministry Report 2020

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