“What do you do all day in prison?”
You never know what conversation you’ll hear among our staff. This question was recently asked by one one of our directors, who has never spent time behind bars, to one of our Academy graduates, who spent a year in prison for drug dealing. The life paths of these two women (who are the same age and born in the same month) may have never crossed if it wasn’t for Visalia Rescue Mission.
Last month, we had an amazing 35th Anniversary Celebration banquet. If you attended the dinner seating, you heard a total of five testimonies. There is a something so powerful in the vulnerability of a total stranger revealing the worst decisions they have ever made. Whether their history contains elements of drugs, gangs, or general criminality, these graduates stepped up to the microphone — not to humiliate themselves — but to honor Christ, whom they credit with the restoration of their lives.
In these stories, there’s one phrase many of our graduates say when they describe their new goals in life.
“I want to be a productive member of society.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know what that means. It sounds like a bad line from a boring movie. It’s just too broad of a descriptor to generate any type of emotional or verbal response from me. How does one become a member? Does that involve public service? Volunteering for the Red Cross? Paying taxes? Coaching my child’s soccer team? How productive must I be?
If we investigate further, it turns out all we really mean is, “I no longer want to break the law and I want a job.” That’s really it. Everything else is pure extra credit (or mandatory…like paying taxes). And I’m happy to share, we hire many of our graduates, which provides some of them the only experience they can include in a resumé.
Many of you know that we extended our Life Change Academy on January 1 from 8 months to 12 months. We did this to provide our graduates with an even greater opportunity to succeed “in society” — to live life on life’s terms. Express Employment Professionals, one of our many community partners, understands the importance of this as much as anyone.
During the month of November, Express launches their “Pay it Forward: Holiday Hiring Drive” campaign toprovide businesses with a streamlined solution to find employees and for individuals to find work during the holiday season. While they may not say it in these words, Express exists to help individuals become productive members of society.
For many of our residents, employment is the first and biggest hurtle after graduation. It can even mean the difference in court custody decisions, as these moms and dads fight to regain custody of their children. So, in quick summary, a job is so much more than a job for so many.
If you own a business, or know someone who does, tell them about Visalia Rescue Mission and ask them to pay it forward this holiday season. You just never know whose life you are changing or whose family you are restoring.