Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) is no stranger to the City of Alexandria. Since 1974, it has been providing pre- and post-release incarcerated services to inmates in the Alexandria Detention Center (ADC) as well as individuals on probation and parole having been released from a Virginia Department of Corrections facility and returning to Alexandria. Many of the programs offered by OAR to inmates are the direct result of committed citizen-volunteer involvement.
The Women Empowered for Change (WEC) program in the ADC is providing both a pre-release educational and counseling component as well as post-release emotional and transitional support. In the ADC, the WEC program is located in a separate unit, with the women inmates choosing to live with and participate jointly with others trying to overcome dysfunctional and painful behavior. The environment is therapeutic and supportive, with a goal of developing supportive relationships that may be maintained after release. Together with the Program Coordinator, a Transition Advisor provides, with the support of United Way of Alexandria, necessary post-release services of employment, housing, family reunification, transportation, clothing, food, substance abuse and mental health referrals.
Women Empowered for Change program is on the cutting edge of rehabilitation and vocational training programs. Through components including “Parenting,” “Nutrition and Health,” “Conflict Resolution,” “Relapse Prevention,” “Book Discussion,” “Employability Readiness,” and other topics facilitated by a group of male and female professionals from the City of Alexandria, the women gain enhanced skills and knowledge to significantly increase their ability to take care of themselves and their children in a positive manner. Thus, the intergenerational cycle of crime is broken.
More than 200 women have been participants in the Women Empowered for Change program. Of course, the numbers of people affected are not quantifiable when one considers the participants’ families, friends, employers and the greater community. The impact of Women Empowered for Change program is significant. Participants are engaged in the initial components to improve their technical abilities and gain self-knowledge, including positive self-characteristics, understanding of the consequences of their past negative and destructive behavior and its impact on the larger community. These initial components are built upon when the participants leave the jail or return home from incarceration in a state facility.
However, the most significant aspects of the program are the volunteers. OAR volunteers provide a significant contribution to the WEC program in the ADC. The results of the WEC and its volunteers include, but are not limited to, increasing educational skills through its tutoring program, ESL tutoring, creative writing, journal keeping and book discussions. Lives are changed, thus the community is changed.
“We are thrilled and honored to have been chosen as a Points of Light Award Recipient. It is a joy that the positive things being done to prevent and reduce crime, and to give all of our citizens hope, are being recognized. In my almost 25 years in this work, I have met some of the finest individuals imaginable – staff, volunteers, donors, other interested individuals, and often our clients, who need some heading in the right direction; but who will learn to contribute to their communities,” stated Cynthia Hull, Executive Director.