On one of the hottest days of the year, OAR clients, staff, interns, and volunteers boarded a van, heading off to meet with representatives of nine faith communities in Arlington and Alexandria. As members ofOAR’s Advocacy and Leadership Program, they set out to enhance community awareness of obstacles that face ex-offenders reentering society from incarceration, and to invite others to join in fighting barriers to reentry. Throughout the day, clients told their stories and allowed their voices to be heard.

“My probation officer told me about this program when I got out two months ago.” M.S recalls. “I didn’t want to come but OAR already got me a resume, helped me fill out financial aid. I didn’t know how to do any of that. Now I’m in school and I got a job. The whole nine yards. I’m think I’m gonna stay with the program.”

Clients also spoke of the opportunity to meet with Delegate Patrick Hope at the Virginia State Assembly this spring and to attend local forums addressing issues concerning reentry. As with all forms of advocacy, there is strength in numbers.

Director of Reentry Services, Katy Steinbruck, outlined the many ways for members of the faith communities to get involved. “It would be wonderful if church members wanted to join us in speaking with local and state representatives,” she proposed. “Or if they wanted to use their experience and expertise to volunteer, with a special event like a workshop or on a regular basis. We have room for all kinds of volunteer opportunities.”

After enjoying a welcome reception, the participants piled back into the van, exhausted but exhilarated. “It was encouraging to hear that a lot of people are concerned about the same issues, even if they aren’t ex-offenders,” one participant remarked. “This isn’t a fight that we have to face alone.”

Written by Jennie Altieri, Reentry Coach and Advocacy and Leadership Program member