University City

Helping former inmates

Although The Center for Community Transitions has been around for 37 years, it has only been in its present location, on Old Concord Road, since October.

And it's easy to drive by the two blue buildings, near North Tryon Street, and not be aware of the life-changing work taking place inside.

One building houses business operations, and the other houses women preparing to re-enter the community.

The Center for Community Transitions is the umbrella organization that offers programs and services to women and men who have been in prison, their children and families. They offer transition and re-entry services, which include employment preparation, community outreach and referrals for clothing, housing and food.

Until 2007, the organization was known as Energy Committed to Offenders.

The center's facility on houses 30 women who are serving the last three years of their state prison sentences. The site has space for family visits. The residents go to work or school. During their final year, they get to visit their families at home.

Other programs offered by the center include Families Doing Time and Lifeworks.

Families Doing Time serves men, women and children with family dinners every third Tuesday. That program also has support programs in schools for children of incarcerated parents.

The Lifeworks program provides employment readiness skills, job search and job retention skills to those already released. The Lifeworks program operates in a location on North Davidson Avenue.

"In the past, re-entry has not been viewed as a critical component in the justice system," said Myra Clark, who has been executive director of the center for 24 years. She feels that attitude has changed because of studies showing the value of such programs.

"Based on research, if people can get a job and maintain family connections, they have a higher probability of succeeding in society," Clark said.

Research, and her years of experience, show that many - 50 percent to 70 percent -of children who have incarcerated parents will themselves be involved in crime. "We want to interrupt that cycle," says Clark.

A few of the main challenges for previously incarcerated men and women include the lack of affordable housing and employment opportunities. "This community does not have enough affordable housing, and we need more companies to hire people who have been incarcerated," Clark said.

She said the center would be happy to counsel companies to help them find appropriate ways to find a good fit.

The center has several opportunities for the public to get involved with its mission. They need organizations, churches or individuals to volunteer to take their participants to community events; to take them to church (all denominations), or bring programming and events to their site. University Hills Baptist has been a volunteer partner since 1988.

Clark says they would welcome any organization willing to prepare a meal once a month. They have a huge, fully furnished kitchen. The meal would offer an opportunity for food and fellowship.

The center also has a garden on the property. Clark says they would also welcome an individual or organization to partner with them to start a community garden and produce fresh vegetables.

If there is a church in the area affiliated with Friendship Trays, the community garden could be part of their program, too.