Organization helps felons re-enter society

By: 
Patrick Filbin Gillette News Record Via Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — Jeannie Miller, the executive director of Second Chance Ministries, doesn’t have to imagine what it would be like to cut services.
Earlier this year, Miller, with direction from the board, decided to stop many of the organization’s programs and services to focus solely on its transitional house, the House of Hope.
Second Chance Ministries is a nonprofit organization that helps recently released inmates from jail or prison get back on their feet with, among other things, spiritual and religious guidance.
That guidance and assistance starts even before people are released from jail.
The organization provides in-take applications, client brochures, community resource brochures and case plans to all potential clients to fill out before their sentence is up.
When they are out, Second Chance acts as the stepping stone between incarceration and the real world.
A lot of the cut services were those that were provided to Volunteers of America residents. That included shuttle rides, hygiene packages and a number of assistance for “re-entry” services like helping pay for new birth certificates and driver’s licenses.
But because of a shortfall in funding, Second Chance Ministries had to get rid of those services.
Miller said if the Optional 1 Percent Sales Tax isn’t approved in November, the agency would likely have to cut services even more.
“That’s definitely on our radar,” Miller said. “If it came to that, we would focus even more on fundraising and then would have to look at cutting services for our residents here at the house.”
Tammy Akovenko started Second Chance Ministries in 2006. Since, the organization has helped people who have recently been released from jail or prison, providing transportation to parole meetings or job interviews, a safe shelter, food, clothing and resources to learn how to budget money and other life skills that some had never learned before incarceration.
One of the main reasons so many people re-offend, Akovenko has previously said, is because life behind bars is easier than living in a community as a convicted felon and dealing the societal stigma that comes with it.
For eight of the 11 years of Second Chance Ministries’ existence, it had been saving money for a transitional house for former convicts to live in while they get back on their feet.
In 2016, the Campbell County Commission agreed to let the nonprofit organization move into an 11-room building at 706 Longmont Ave. and pay $1 a month for rent.
Two years later, more than 25 people have used the House of Hope.
There are three meetings a week at the House of Hope: two recovery group meetings and one Bible study, where clients and members of the community can gather and work on getting healthy and staying on track as a new part of society.
Second Chance started receiving funds from the city and county around 2010 and since then, the city and county have given about $15,000 each year to the nonprofit.
Second Chance was one of three social service agencies that asked for additional funding from the city of Gillette this year.
Miller asked the city for $20,000 in the next budget year to help pay for expenses at the House of Hope and to help stay afloat during a time gap when federal and state grants aren’t scheduled to come in.
Miller also asked the county for $20,000 and both entities agreed to give more.
The $40,000 makes up a large chunk of the organization’s total budget of $110,000.
In the past, the funding from the city and county went to those re-entry services like driver’s licenses or steel toed boots for workers all around the community, mainly VOA residents.
Now, that money mostly will be spent to keep up the House of Hope. That includes transportation for the organization’s van, food and utilities for the house, Walmart gift cards, gas money and other re-entry fees for only the residents at the house.
Near the end of 2017, Dave Caldwell, the House of Hope program director, left for another opportunity. That presented challenges for Miller and the rest of the team, but his departure might have been a blessing in disguise.
They were able to balance the books a little better and move Miller to the transition house as executive director and house director, essentially pulling double duty.
Since the economic downturn, Miller has said that private donors and actual donations “have been pretty sad,” and because of that, the piece of the Optional 1 Percent Sales Tax the organization gets from the city and county is “critical to our organization and taking care of our clientele.”
“There’s things that only the hand of God could’ve provided to us if the 1 Percent money had not been there for us,” Miller said. “That actually helps (fundraising) because when we’re petitioning other organizations for funding, they like to see that (the) county and city officials support us and what we’re doing.”
Moving forward, Miller hopes that Second Chance Ministries can be self-sustaining by charging residents more money for rent but the organization is not at that point yet.
In the meantime, the importance of the 1 Percent is critical to the nonprofit’s survival, Miller said, especially when considering how she is able to get other funds through state and federal grants.
“I have received grants based solely on the fact that this community has bought in to what we’re doing,” Miller said. “The Wyoming Community Foundation and the Daniels Fund, we would lose leverage for those bigger funders if we couldn’t prove that the city, county and the community didn’t support us.”

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