Join us for OAR’s Annual Project Christmas Angel! This year’s wrapping party will be held on Thursday, December 12 at 6:30 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Arlington.

OAR has provided gifts to children with incarcerated parents in our local detention centers for over 20 years. Each child receives a gift with a personalized note from their parent hand-delivered to them by volunteers or sent by mail. We do this in the hope that the children will feel remembered at holiday time.

How you can help:

  • Make a financial contribution by clicking here.
  • Donate new, unwrapped toys for ages newborn to 18
  • Donate gift cards, denominations of $10-$20 to stores like Target
  • Deliver gifts to the children’s homes
  • Volunteer at our wrapping party

To RSVP for the wrapping party and/or to deliver gifts, please click here.

Donations may be dropped off or mailed to:
Attn: Adam Hand
936 21st Street South,
VA 22202

Mr. P is a well-educated man who formerly worked on Capitol Hill. Through a series of life events, such as divorce and being laid off, he found himself arrested for breaking into the basement of the apartment building where he used to live. Mr. P had been homeless for about six months. There was a forecast for heavy snow and he was trying to stay warm. He had never been homeless before and didn’t know how to access services. By the time he came to OAR, he needed assistance with housing, employment, and clothing. OAR referred him to RPC, a transitional shelter, where he lived for six months. Mr. P attended OAR’s employment program to draft a resume and send out job applications. OAR also gave him clothing.

Through his efforts in OAR’s employment program, Mr. P landed a good job in sales and even used OAR’s office space to complete the two-week job orientation. He is currently living in a six month residential program while he saves for an apartment. He went back to court, where the judge dropped the trespassing charge in light of his stable employment and housing. When Mr. P first came to OAR, he was shut down, like a shell of his former self. OAR has given him hope and a second chance at life.

I attended OAR Reentry program’s Supper Club on December 19th. The evening was warm and jovial as our community “broke bread” together. We have Supper Club’s once a month and it always proves to be an amazing evening with interesting and dynamic people. We usually have a theme, one month it might be Halloween Karaoke another watching and discussing a film, another having a game night. This month we watched clips of motivational speakers and spoken word artists and then did a vision exercise about our goals for the next 30 days together. I was fortunate enough to sit next to a client I will call Michael. I thought I knew some of Michael’s history. I knew he was living in a shelter near by and had been recently released from the detention center after serving time for trespassing and shoplifting. I knew he had spent the year prior to his incarceration in an alcoholic haze living under a bridge. His public defender who had taken a strong interest in his case told his story as one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. “Lost Boys” was a name given to the group of over 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005), about 2.5 million killed and millions were displaced. The name “Lost Boys of Sudan” was colloquially used by aid workers in the refugee camps where the boys resided in Africa.

At the Supper Club that night were asked to list a few things we want to add and a few things we want to subtract in our lives. Michael worked diligently on his list giving a sentence or two for each item on the list and when the facilitator asked us to share his was one of the first hands to go up. I was amazed by how humble and filled with hope his answers were. He is living in an emergency shelter where he has to leave by 8 a.m. each morning with everything he owns in life to carry through out the day on his back. Yet, he was excited about the idea of being able to work which he desperately wanted to do and knew he could only accomplish as long as alcohol was not something he used to forget the horrifying traumas he had experienced. I also learned that night that he had the most beautiful singing voice in his native tongue. I was touched that after the video clips some would share their thoughts and others would pass but Michael would struggle in English to say that he didn’t understand the clip due to language issues but thanked us for sharing it. I learned so many things about Michael that night, so many talents, so many strengths and such resiliency. One of the speakers talked about a quote “there are those who don’t know and those who don’t know they don’t know,” Before I sat and spent time with Michael on Monday night, I thought I knew.

By Katy Steinbruck, OAR’s Director of Reentry Services

My name is Michael. I am 22 years old and live in Arlington. Growing up, my relationship with my family was not very good. In the fourth grade I started to hang out with the wrong crowd. I smoked my first cigarette and from there it kept getting worse. As a juvenile, I was arrested about seven times. It got to a point where my mom didn’t know who I was anymore. I did not care about school and all I wanted to do was get high. In total, I served time for about five years. However, this last time was very different because I gained so much, and the most precious thing was learning about OAR. Gaining this information in jail, I set up an appointment with an OAR case manager upon my release. Since that visit, everything has changed a lot for me. I did not want to keep living my life the way I was. I needed support and that’s what I have been getting at OAR. They have helped me with job links, employment, and encouragement. They gave me a mentoring team and also a great tutor. I have been out for over a year now. The relationship with my family has improved a lot. I am currently working part time and attending Northern Virginia Community College, and I could have not done this by myself. OAR has encouraged me to go back to school and kept my motivation to continue working. I am also thankful for the scholarships they have provided me with. Experiencing all this makes me want to become a counselor for young kids, so I can help them not follow the same road I once did. I want to thank OAR for all the help they have given me.

OAR was the first place that Sam turned to when looking for a job and he was very determined to find gainful employment. Living in a shelter with limited resources and a felony charge it was going to be a struggle, but Sam had a very positive and determined attitude. He possessed all the skills necessary for a maintenance position. For two and a half months we had been unsuccessful. He had put in numerous applications and had been on three interviews. OAR had helped Sam obtain his ID and provided him with new clothes for his interviews, numerous job leads, and transportation, Sam continued to put forth a great effort by meeting with employers and going to employment centers on a regular basis with no luck.

Sam came to us very down and looked like he was ready to give up. We did our best to raise his spirits with a pep-talk about how persistence pays off and that he was sure to get a break soon. Sam left the office still feeling defeated, but he promised that he would keep at it. The following week we received a phone call from Sam letting us know that he found a job with an Alexandria Hotel where he had applied when he first began his search. When we asked Sam why the manager had changed his mind, he told us that the manager had observed him getting off the metro every day looking for a job, and he was impressed with his persistence. Sam is ecstatic about his new job and not only does he have a job, but he has a job he can turn into a career.

There is an old saying defining insanity as “repeating the same behavior over and over again expecting a different result.”

For the formerly incarcerated, their “brush” with the criminal justice system is an opportunity to learn that truism. Repeating old patterns of unhealthy behaviors are not going to produce different outcomes. It is as true for us as it is for them.

Yet we as human beings very often don’t like change. It is discomforting, unsettling, and requires—well adjustments. We prefer our familiar customs, patterns and habits—even if they do not produce the desired effects.

OAR clients represent a willingness which many would find difficult. They recognize that an improved life for themselves is not going to come without change.

Change sounds easy, but it is hard work. Putting away former ways of thinking, former habits, former patterns of association and behavior requires effort.

I think our OAR clients are teaching us a valuable life lesson about change and the effort it requires.

With volunteers and staff to support their resolve, they determine that their past is not going to be the end of their story. They determine to stretch the limits of their own comfortable horizons to be different. And—catch this—they do this all the while many in society tell them you are a “bad” egg; you can’t change. To be determined to engage in the hard work of self-improvement in the face of employment barriers, social barriers, family needs, and the stigma of “felon” – now that is resilience.

Our clients not only embrace change and the hard work it requires, but also they pick themselves up time and time again when doors are closed to them and they say “that is not going to stop me.” Wow, what if we all had a good dose of that!

Pat Nolan, President of Prison Fellowship. Provided this summary of a new study released in January 2012 about the impact of visitation on recidivism.

Offenders who were visited in prison were significantly less likely to recidivate. The reductions in recidivism were:

– 13 % for a felony reconviction

– 25 % for re-incarceration for a technical violation revocation

– Any visit from a mentor reduced the risk of reconviction by 29%, while a visit by clergy lowered it by 24%. Visits from certain family members and relatives also had an impact. The risk of reconviction was reduced by 10% for at least one visit with a sibling and 9% for a visit by other relatives.

– Visits closer to an offender’s release date had a greater impact on reducing recidivism.

– Inmates visited more often were less likely to recidivate.

– The larger an offender’s social support system, the lower the risk for recidivism.

– The total number of different individual visitors an offender had was significantly associated with less recidivism.

The study was conducted by the Minnesota Department of Corrections among 16,420 inmates between 2003 and 2007. This is a very large sample size, and an unusually long period to track recidivism (up to five years).

One last finding of the study merits particular attention: 40 % of the inmates never got a visit. This is very sad. Consider how intimidating it would be to face release after five years in prison and not have had contact with anyone outside prison for all those years. Where would you go to find a place to sleep? Who would help you find a job? Who would help you get to the doctor or the DMV to get a license or to your parole appointments?

OAR is there to help the many who have no one.