RICHMOND — The Department of Corrections is thanking its volunteers this week as it celebrates National Volunteer Week. From helping offenders create art to offering tips on financial management, thousands of volunteers offer their time and energy to incarcerated offenders every year. Statewide volunteer efforts are valued at about $2.76 million a year.
“Volunteers make invaluable contributions to the Department. Their generosity of spirit lifts offenders and propels the agency forward in its efforts to help people be better,” said Director Harold Clarke.
VADOC’s volunteer efforts cover a wide spectrum including religion, health, education, military benefits and reentry efforts.
Teaching others the joy of painting with oils has brought a special satisfaction to Richmond-area artist Bev Perdue Jennings. Her students, offenders incarcerated at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women, find the class transformative.
Ms. Jennings was one of approximately 4,800 people who contributed a collective 108,000 hours to the Department of Corrections in fiscal 2018. Including approximately $61,000 in donations, the VADOC volunteer program’s total value in FY 2018 is an estimated $2.76 million.
“It empowers them,” Ms. Jennings said. Her volunteer efforts under the auspices of the non-profit Art for the Journey have an added benefit for her. “Anytime you give back, you get as much as you give.”
This story is familiar to Melissa Welch, the VADOC’s volunteer coordinator. “People often find that in helping others, the person they help the most is themselves,” she said.
Art for the Journey is just one volunteer effort working to help incarcerated people successfully transform their lives. Other examples include:
- Kairos Prison Ministry of Virginia, whose volunteers seek to address the spiritual needs of offenders.
- St. Brides Correctional Center in Chesapeake hosts a non-religious reentry-focused Prison Fellowship Academy, a one-year program.
- The God Behind Bars initiative at Nottoway Correctional Center is an effort by the Passion Community Church in Powhatan to create a congregation that holds regular, weekly services.
- Drive-to-Work, a non-profit organization, sends volunteer attorneys into many prisons around Virginia helping offenders restore their driving privileges.
- The Virginia Department of Veteran Services initiated a statewide program to ensure that incarcerated veterans and their family members utilize their military benefits. Often their representatives are volunteers who work to aid reentry and workforce development.
The State Farm Correctional Center in Powhatan houses one of the VADOC’s thriving volunteer efforts. Last week, State Farm brought in a representative from the Virginia Credit Union who spent two hours talking to 140 men about better managing their finances. The next day the facility hosted a resource fair attended by 200 men who heard from several local employers about employment opportunities available to them upon release. State Farm regularly hosts graduate students from the Virginia Commonwealth University who teach a popular parenting class.
“You name it, we’ve got it covered,” said State Farm’s Institutional Program Manager Adam Booker. “It’s all about finding the space and time to do it.”
For more information on VADOC click: www.vadoc.virginia.gov.