Connecting with the Community

Small JC3Being connected to the community you live in fosters an important sense of belonging. At our supportive housing facility, Jane Cizik Garden Place (JCGP), events and activities provided by staff and volunteers give residents the chance to socialize. Every month, JCGP hosts at least three events for residents, including the much-loved Ladies’ Night organized by Terrace United Methodist Church, a potluck organized by residents, and an event organized by staff based on resident interest or feedback. These events as well as any others that occur throughout the month are all shared with residents via the monthly newsletter JCGP Sr. Case Manager Ashley Stratton and Case Manager Nena Chima compose and place on residents’ doors at the start of each month.

The newsletter not only covers the events at Jane Cizik Garden Place, but includes resident birthdays for the month and events around the city that are free or low cost. The newsletters also include healthy recipes, a literature spotlight, and a headline story that lines up with national events like Alcohol Awareness month. Resident feedback also plays a role in the featured coverage in the newsletter. For example, a resident came to staff interested in learning ways she could improve her overall wellness, and the following newsletter’s theme was optimum health.

Residents also play an important role in bringing events their neighbors can benefit from to JCGP’s campus. A few months ago, a resident was interested in participating in
, a program that helps eligible employed individuals and families with a flawed or no credit history secure and pay off a loan for a car. Ways to Work requires participants go through a one-time orientation before they provide one on one consultation services to secure a loan and support services. The interested resident asked Ways to Work to host the orientation at Jane Cizik Garden Place, allowing her and nine other residents to participate.

Another resident brought nutrition classes to JCGP when she heard her doctor’s office was offering them in the community. Other events that residents initiated have been a community-wide garage sale, and next month the opportunity for free haircuts. Knowing their suggestions effect the events and calendar each month, and hearing positive feedback from their neighbors, ensures that residents feel like they have a positive impact on their community.

The events that residents most appreciate most are ones that provide enrichment and skills they can apply in their lives. Popular classes include a financial boot camp put on by Easter Seals that teaches residents important budgeting, credit, and financial literacy skills. On a different track on Friday, October 16th a make-up artist came and gave residents styling and beauty advice. Events on site at Jane Cizik Garden Place allow all residents, even those with limited time, money or mobility, the opportunity to connect and feel a part of their residential community. One of the newer residents told case managers that the events at JCGP make her feel like “she belongs and that she’s involved.”

ExxonMobil Makes an Impact

Impact Day COllage smallExxon Mobil Impact day was Tuesday October 20, 2015 and 40 volunteers from ExxonMobil’s Fuels, Lubes, Corporate Global Services Company (FLCG) Procurement Team took over The Cottage Shop to give the store a boost inside and out! The Shop was closed for the day as volunteers rolled up their sleeves and gave the walls a fresh coat of paint, including our fitting rooms and their doors, installed 31 new shelves for our shoe displays, and laid gravel beside our bushes along Westheimer.

Volunteers were also busy down in the basement, helping us sort through the major treasure trove of clothing, shoes, jewelry and other accessories generously donated by a boutique. Their help processing all this merchandise was integral to getting the new goods out on the floor for our shoppers to enjoy!

This day of giving back is a part of Exxon Mobil’s Impact Day, formerly called Day of Caring, with United Way. With over 10,500 volunteers this year, Impact Day projects through United Way give corporations the opportunity to give back and support the needs of local nonprofits. ExxonMobil’s FLCG Team Procurement Associate Spencer Hutchings said they selected The Women’s Home as beneficiaries “based on the upstanding work The Home does and the values that it holds.”

The Women’s Home is grateful to ExxonMobil’s FLCG Procurement Team for their hard work and enthusiasm!

The Cottage Shop Goes Vintage

Vintage TCS FestivalOn the sunny Saturday of September 19th, The Women’s Home Cottage Shop joined 39 other vendors of vintage and antique goods for the Houston Vintage Festival. Hosted in the spacious and repurposed air hangar of the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport, the festival brought together lovers of vintage goods, fashion and beauty with pop up vendors, a retro beauty contest and eats from local food trucks. The Cottage Shop was connected to Festival organizers by friend of The Home and Ms. Houston Vintage Judge, Tina Zulu, owner of Zulu Creative. The Festival’s organizers, Dawn Bell, Diana Candida, Maria Martinez, and Mitch Cohen generously donated a booth space to The Cottage Shop after hearing about the vital role The Shop plays in supporting our programs through revenue, and providing job training to our residents.

The Cottage Shop team split up to keep our shop open as usual while Cottage ShopVintage TCS Manager Cheri Barton and Cottage Shop Associate Gustavo Vila packed up Shop’s vintage collection of clothing, hats, jewelry and other accessories to sell at the festival. Over the course of the day, The Cottage Shop team met several new customers and reconnected with patrons who hadn’t visited in a while. By all accounts, customers were impressed with how the Shop has grown. By the end of the festival, the pop up vintage boutique gave us great exposure for our mission, the shop’s vintage section and a little added financial support.

We’re thrilled to have been a part of the Houston Vintage Festival’s stylish look back. Thank you again to the organizers Dawn, Diana, Maria and Mitch for inviting us to be a part of the festivities!

Donate your Holiday Styles to Shop. Taste. Empower.

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Have you been wearing that same little something every holiday party for the last three years? If you’re looking for a change in your holiday style, and a way to give your old clothes new life, donate your gently worn clothing, shoes, and home goods to The Cottage Shop. We are looking for men’s and women’s evening wear, shoes, and handbags to help us stock up for Shop. Taste. Empower. in November! Not looking to retire your special holiday outfit, but gotten the last mile out of that festive light-up sweater? Bring it down to The Cottage Shop to liven up someone else’s holiday festivities. Or if you have that unusual gift from last year’s white elephant exchange that you’ve never found a place for? Re-gift it to us and make someone else’s holiday gift hunt!

Our very first Shop. Taste. Empower. was Sunday, May 3, 2015 at The Cottage Shop and 200 shoppers came to sample delicious eats from Hungry’s, BB’s Roadhouse, and Phoenicia’s, bid on amazing silent auction items and catch great deals on all merchandise at the shop.

The event was such a great hit, we’re doing it again on Sunday, November 15 just in time for holiday shopping, and we need your help to make sure it will be even bigger and better than before! Tres Chic Boutique, owned by mother and daughter team Susan and Elizabeth Hancock, has generously donated over 100 pieces of stunning high fashion clothing which we’ll have on sale that Sunday and we’re looking for other donors to join them in stocking our shelves.

This holiday edition of Shop. Taste. Empower we’ll have sweet bites and warm drinks from Whole Foods, Jody Cakes, Paulie’s, and Greenway Coffee Company.  DJ Gracie Chavez will be back again to mix tunes to help shoppers get in the spirit of the season as fashion stylist Dawn Bell and Make-Up Artists and hair stylist Justin Hernandez, and Lydia Lutz offer style and beauty tips to interested attendees. Our Media Sponsor, Houstonia will have special promotional goodies and copies of Houstonia Magazine the day of the event. In addition to holiday styles for men and women in our vintage and evening sections, and our ugly holiday sweaters, we’ll have gift sections to help you find stocking stuffers, white elephant presents, and gifts big and small for all the people in your life.
If you’ve got potential merchandise for Shop. Taste. Empower. collecting dust in your closet or home, shake it off and donate it to The Cottage Shop by Friday November 6, 2015 and help us make this event fabulous and festive!

Then on the day of the event, bring your gently used winter wear for women including coats, hats, gloves, scarves and sweaters as a donation and get a free goody bag full of swag as our gift to you for helping our residents stay warm for winter!

Click here to reserve your ticket for Shop. Taste. Empower.

Shop. Taste. Empower. Holiday Edition 2015

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Click here to register for this free event!

The Cottage Shop’s Holiday Edition: Shop. Taste. Empower. party features the best of beauty, fashion and food, Sunday, November 15, 2015 from 1 to 4 p.m. The free event gives shoppers an opportunity to find incredible gifts, receive styling advice from Houston’s fashion experts, nosh on sweet treats and most importantly, donate women’s winter clothing to those in need.

The Cottage Shop at 811 Westheimer Rd. is an undiscovered gem, mixing new clothing and accessories with gently worn designer clothing in one cozy location. The Cottage Shop helps women in crisis regain their self-esteem and dignity, while cultivating an empowering spirit. The Shop. Taste. Empower. party is an opportunity to explore the store while enjoying the fun and fa-la-la’s of the season.

Be the best-dressed at every holiday party this season and receive personalized fashion styling by vintage expert and celebrity fashion stylist Dawn Bell and Houston Chronicle Fashion and Beauty Editor Joy Sewing.

Create a head-to-toe holiday look at the Beauty Bar with the ultimate Holiday Glam Squad. Beauty blogger, Nicole Kestenbaum (Lipstick & Brunch) and makeup artists Lydia Lutz (Artistry by Lyd), Justine Hernandez and Kenya Hunt (Makeup by Kenya) will be on hand to get shoppers gorgeous for the season, plus hairstylists will show shoppers how to create quick up-dos.

LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics will bring their lip scrubs and holiday lipsticks and Shany Cosmetics will complete the lips and lashes beauty bar with luminous lashes and brilliant holiday eyeshadows.

Shoppers will enjoy sips and bites by Greenway Coffee Company, Jodycakes, Paulie’s Restaurant, Topo Chico and Whole Foods Montrose and lucky bidders will have an opportunity to win a Happy Hour for 8 at Boheme, Barista 101 class for 15 guests taught by David Buehrer of Greenway Coffee, plus much more.

The first 250 guests who donate new or gently used women’s winter clothing will receive a swag bag to rival Santa Claus, loaded with cosmetics, special offers on yoga and fitness, plus other treats. The shopping soundtrack is provided by DJ Gracie Chavez, co-founder of Bombón.

Women supporting other women on the host committee include Hallie Bauer, Helen Bernard, Alice Berry, Blair Foster, Brooke Grisebaum, Jennifer Keenan, Maria-Eleni Koinis, Nicole Ali Langham, Connie McAllister, Emily Mohn, Lauren Mohn, Alixe Ryan, Vickie Snow, Heather Staible, Christina Stith, Hayley Vaughn and Sarah Walters-Aramburo.

The Women’s Home extends special thanks to food sponsors: Paulie’s Restaurant, Jodycakes, Greenway Coffee Company, Topo Chico and Whole Foods Montrose; event supporters Aerial Yoga Houston, Boheme, BURD LIFE, Francesca’s, LUSH Cosmetics (Highland Village), Shany Cosmetics; and media sponsor Houstonia Magazine.

Looking for Shop Support

b2ap3_thumbnail_DSC05767The Cottage Shop has racks of exciting new merchandise–with more needing sorting!

Frequent shoppers at The Cottage Shop will notice that we’ve been receiving lots of new merchandise, and we always appreciate support in getting things sorted from inside the door to go out on the floor! We’ve had an influx of donations from generous boutiques and need help getting donated items processed and ready for our customers.

Recent volunteer groups have been doing their part to get things moving. On September 24, the Women’s Team Member Network at Wells Fargo visited The Women’s Home to learn more about the work we do and to volunteer. Manager of Volunteer Service Chris Hammond spoke to the group about volunteer opportunities before giving the floor to Board Member Mary Arnold. Finally, Wells Fargo Volunteers heard from one of our residents, who shared the impact The Women’s Home has had on her life. They then headed over to The Cottage Shop to help process and sort incoming merchandise and help prepare materials for the Re:Entry Summit The Home held on Wednesday, September 30.

Aetna, who volunteered in the Cottage Shop on  September 19, came back October 3. Groups like Wells Fargo and Aetna aren’t alone. In the past month, we’ve had volunteers from:

 Episcopal High School

Five Stars

Methodist Hospital

Exxon Mobil

In the coming weeks, we’re excited to already have several groups scheduled including:

Double Tree Hotel

Chevron

Southern Methodist University

University of Houston Social Work Club

University of Houston’s Metropolitan Volunteer Program

If you or your office, social group, or faith community are looking for opportunities to get involved with The Home and would like to learn more about volunteering, please contact us at volunteer@thewomenshome.org.

Join Our Leadership Circle

b2ap3_thumbnail_Leadership-Circle-LogoWhat we’d like to say first and foremost is thank you. Thank you for your continued support of The Women’s Home. Thank you for understanding how important it is to provide resources and a real second chance to women in crisis. Because of you and people like you, many local women are longer on the streets. They are no longer afraid for their life. They are sober and employed and looking at their first real chance at a bright future. Because of you, they are now a productive member of this city.

This year, we ask that you consider becoming a part of our Leadership Circle. This special group of donors provides an annual contribution to The Home, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 and allows our organization to continue providing the vital programs necessary to help rebuild the lives of the Houston area women in our care. This group of major donors assure The Women’s Home of a well-balanced and robust charitable base that will strengthen our ability to serve more women in need. There are few people on this earth who are not touched, in some way, by addiction, mental illness, or abuse. Present or past, immediate family or a friend, a coworker, or spouse. You know someone. Without intervention and support these traumas can lead to homelessness. These issues are multi-layered and they require individualized, multi-layered solutions.

That’s where The Women’s Home comes in. In the 60 years since its founding, The Home has established itself in Houston as a leader in solutions to the problem of homelessness. We have utilized innovative, evolving and proven intervention to provide the lost women of our city a fighting chance. Our WholeLife® program has received accolades nationally for its efficacy.

Because of your unwavering support, there are now two doors for the journey of recovery. Jane Cizik Garden Place apartment community provides housing that is safe and affordable for graduates of our program and others who desire to live in a sober, supportive environment. In addition, our treatment and transitional residential facility in Montrose continues to be a place of acceptance for those weary women who commit to begin anew.

Talk to Julie Comiskey, Chief Development Officer to make your year end, tax deductible pledge. It is vital to our work, vital to hope in the lives of so many women who need to envision and be able to achieve transformation.

2015 Gala “Landmarks & Legacies” Nov. 13th

The Women’s Home is proud to announce our 2015 Annual Gala “Landmarks & Legacies”

Our Gala will take place on November 13, 2015 at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, and we are honored to have as our co-chairs Tracy and Harry Faulkner and Fran Fawcett Peterson.

This year’s Gala will recognize six honorees for six decades:

Joanne King Herring

Jane Cizik

Adele and Ber Pieper

Bette Stead

Kay and René Joyce

Mandy Kao 

To purchase tables and individual tickets, please contact Marcia Tapp at 713-328-1975.

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JoAnne King Herring

In 1957, a young woman with five small children sought assistance at Houston’s major rescue mission. However at the time, there were no facilities for women. In fact, for women there were no services at all. The woman was instead referred to Mrs. Laura Sampson, JoAnne’s aunt and mentor. Mrs. Sampson took the family into her own home. She then asked Joanne, to help her develop a safe place for Houston area women. JoAnne used her charm and incredible communications skills to raise money and awareness for this new cause. She held the organization’s first fundraiser, a silver tea, in her River Oaks home and moved a local television executive to give her air time to share its needs. As a result, financial support poured in from the community to launch The Women’s Home and a television show was created for JoAnne. Over the last 58 years, JoAnne has used her dazzling spirit to continue to champion the mission of The Women’s Home.

Jane Cizik

Jane Cizik led the stabilization and growth of the The Women’s Home in its infancy. Her prudent and wise leadership attracted important new donors and staff professionalizing the services offered as well as building a stable financial core. Jane so believed in the mission and work, she tirelessly steered the Board of Directors throughout the issues and challenges every small agency faces. Her belief in the mission continued as The Home entered a new phase of service, our permanent supportive housing community named for her family’s lead gift, Jane Cizik Garden Place. No job was too large or too small for Jane to tackle and she did it with a gentle, cheerful spirit. Ever the optimist, Jane always has an encouraging word for all. Her guidance and generosity continue to leave a legacy of excellence.

Adele and Ber Pieper

It was her passion for gardening that first brought Adele Pieper to The Women’s Home. In the late 1980’s, The Post Oak Garden Club supported an outreach project to landscape the grounds on our Montrose campus. As President of the club at that time, Mrs. Pieper hosted several silver teas to raise money for the project while overseeing its design and execution. Along the way, Adele fell in love with the mission of The Women’s Home and encouraged her husband, Ber, to lend his support as well.

Since then, Adele and Ber Pieper have dedicated almost three decades of service to The Women’s Home. Together, they have provided crucial leadership that has helped The Women’s Home grow from a small local agency, into a nationally recognized treatment program. Over the years, the Piepers have taken on some the toughest volunteer positions in our organization; leading our Board of Directors for seven years, chairing two capital campaigns, and serving on our facilities committee, all with grace and enthusiasm. Their calm demeanor and dedication during difficult times are a true inspiration to our staff as well as the volunteers that have come behind them.

Bette Stead

Bette Stead has held almost every position when it comes to growing and building The Women’s Home to what it is today. She has devoted tireless dedication and countless hours for almost 20 years. Bette served on the Board of Directors, presided over the Advisory Board, and she chaired our capital campaign task force that led to the construction of The Home’s first permanent supportive housing community, Jane Cizik Garden Place. Without hesitation, she stepped up again in the same role, but this time to guide our current $27 million capital campaign to build a second apartment community for families and a WholeLife® service center. She cheerfully meshes an amazing team of professionals, often calling for a “dance of joy” whenever we receive particularly great news. Without Bette’s expertise, time and energy, The Women’s Home would not be flourishing as it is today. Our Home has more than doubled in size and revenue since she began her volunteer work here. Bette plays perhaps one of the most influential and pivotal roles for this accomplishment.

Kay and René Joyce

Early in 2003, as a personnel recruiter, Kay Joyce was introduced to The Women’s Home by colleagues who volunteered working with our residents to hone skills for employment. Kay who was drawn to the mission of women who courageously turning their lives around, soon began to lead efforts in our Partnership council to expand our community footprint. She created event after event to attract new supporters, chairing evening mixers, golf tournaments, fashion shows, speaker luncheons and galas. She immediately involved her husband René and with his support and generosity, these events began to not only to break all financial records, but also put The Women’s Home on the map in Houston. The couple has introduced countless individuals and corporations to The Home and has been incredibly generous in both corporate and individual support for all of the major efforts in this formative period. We are proud to have Kay serve on our Board of Directors, continually cheerleading our growth and outreach.

Mandy Kao

Mandy personifies the bright future of The Home. Her gracious “can do” spirit was a welcome addition. As a powerhouse volunteer and advocate, everywhere she goes, Mandy spreads the message of The Women’s Home and brings new supporters to our doors, willing to create the kind of enthusiastic energy that will propel us to great new heights. Her grace, style and passion attract vibrant, diverse and compassionate Houstonians who understand and respect the struggles our residents face. She helped plan the blockbuster reNew and reDo Fashion Event this past August at The Wortham. Mandy’s willingness to build a buzz and set incredibly high expectations for the event went far in promoting our Cottage Resale Shop, a unique treasure in The Home’s past, present and future.

Meeting in the Middle

Three ClientsSometimes the people who will change your life the most are the ones you meet halfway down your darkest road. Such is the case of Crystal, Janel and Melissa, three graduates of The Women’s Home from very different walks of life. Upon meeting at The Home found a bond they would carry through recovery. The three came to The Home when their lives were at their most difficult, Janel transferred from the Houston Recovery Center in the wake of an overdose; Melissa, struggling with alcoholism and withdrawn from loved ones; and Crystal also facing alcoholism and estranged from her family.

Life had pushed these three women to the edge of their resilience. Together they found the strength in each other to begin pushing back. Both Melissa and Crystal began drinking later in life. Crystal said she “[I] Thought I could keep it in the corner, and then it crept over the wall and took over every place in my life.” Melissa too attempted to hide her illness from others “Before alcoholism, I loved the person that I was. I began hiding things from my partner and was ashamed of my actions. I could not look people in the eye. I stopped taking care of myself. In my addiction I hated who I was.” Janel, who struggled with intravenous drug addiction and the death of her boyfriend also wrestled with guilt and shame. She and the others all are grateful for the shame resilience training they received during their time at The Home. “Looking back,” Janel said, “I was not a bad person, [I] just made some bad choices.”
Together the three threw all they had into the program, sitting at the head of every class and dedicating themselves to their recovery. They took on the challenges of recovery with open arms and always with the determination to push their limits. Each attribute their time in The Cottage Shop with the resurgence of their self-confidence.

Each was also personally impacted by a different aspect of the program. For Melissa, who was quiet and withdrawn upon arriving, assertiveness training gave her the confidence to advocate for herself and set healthy boundaries. Crystal appreciated learning the physiological science behind her alcoholism, how her brain had been altered and contributed to the challenges she faced. As someone who drew strength from her faith she also forged a strong connection to her spiritual mentor, Judy Gilbert, a spiritual advisor to The Home. Janel appreciated the experience of being around other women and watching them interact in healthy ways and learning to have those relationships for herself. She also values the lesson of self-compassion and dealing with grief. “I forgave myself, I allowed myself to be happy, before I thought that I did not deserve that.”

Now after life in The Home, Crystal, Janel and Melissa are each other’s support system and grounding points. They share an apartment together and each have blossomed into prosperous jobs. “We come home and we have each other” Melissa says and Crystal adds “We are accountable to each other. Like we are a family.” The three not only have the bonds they found in each other to draw strength from, but have reconnected with their biological families. Crystal who works as a trainee managing 300 accounts for a family company, is back in her son’s and her mother’s lives and is happy to have him enrolled with programs at her church. Janel is the administrative assistant to a bio technology company’s Vice President of Finance and has connected with her nephew, who has become best friends with Crystal’s son from their visits to the women’s apartment. Melissa was recently promoted in her position working in supervision and event planning for a contract company with Costco. She is reforging her relationship with her mother, helping her mom unlearn her enabling behaviors.

The trio, in graduating and moving forward to thrive in their recovered lives, have not forgotten where they met or the others who come after them. They still volunteer with The Home and reach out to and help the residents who are standing at the same shadowed crossroads that lead them to each other. “We can become resources to help other women. Soak up the opportunities and learn everything. You have to be active and seek out your answers. This is an amazing place where all of your needs are met, where everyone has your best interest at heart. It gives you so many directions to go. It is a place where time is given to learn about you and create yourself.”

The Women’s Home Re:Entry Summit September 2015 Recap

b2ap3_thumbnail_Re-Entry-COllage-SmallerOn September 30, 2015, The Women’s Home held our very first Re:Entry Summit, a day long symposium dedicated to discussing the issues women face upon re-entering society after incarceration. The event brought together panelists and speakers from across the nation who have dedicated their work to researching the ways the criminal justice system affects those involved. Chau Nguyen, then Manager of Community Involvement for The Home, and the emcee for the morning, opened the Summit by giving thanks to Texas Bar Foundation for awarding the grant which made this summit possible. Attendees then saw a short video of one of The Home’s graduates, who spoke on her experience with re-entry.

The morning’s keynote speakers, the authors of A Country Called Prison, Drs. Mary D. Looman and John D. Carl opened the day with the origins of their book. The Drs. research began when Dr. Looman noted to Dr. Carl that incarcerated people share a distinct language, pro-social behavior (ways of dressing and presenting yourself and interacting with others), and similar childhood narratives. Dr. Carl, a sociologist noted that these commonalities are the things that a country’s culture is built on, and the two began researching how our current prison system alienates millions of citizens, effectively preventing them from ever fully re-entering society.

Drs. Looman and Carl went on to explain how the United States’ incarcerated population, at over 16 million, is just slightly smaller than the state of Florida, and those incarcerated carry lifelong disadvantages from stigma and poor resources that are passed to the next generation. Prison systems, Dr. Looman noted, are the only industry she has worked in where there is not a unified goal for all those involved. Those incarcerated are focused on leaving, behavioral staff like her are focused on getting them needed medical treatment, administrative staff focus on keeping the prison running, and security staff are focused on preventing any physical violence. Prisons are also the only organizational structure that do not specialize their treatment, unlike schools or hospitals where those using services are divided by age, learning level, or needed treatment. This leads to situations like 19 year olds on their first nonviolent drug charge being roomed with convicted pedophiles or experienced convicts whose only mentorship is how to survive best in the prison system. This failure to categorize and provide specialized services and training to those incarcerated creates an environment where inmates stagnate until they are released, with no resources, social skills, or pro-social skills to help them recover and avoid returning.

After this provocative opening, attendees left the main room to the morning breakout session of their choice. The morning sessions included:

A more in depth look at Dr. Looman and Dr. Carl’s eleven proposals to address the problems their opening speech laid out

A panel featuring keynote speaker Dr. Andrea Leverentz and The Women’s Home graduate, Natasha Jones that examined the journey from prison to re-entry from the lived perspective

A behavioral health panel featuring Career and Recovery’s Alternative Program Director, Jeff Berry as well as The Women’s Home Executive Director, Paula Paust and Tina Carr, a graduate of The Women’s Home who now works within the Harris County Jail providing mental health services

A look at the impact of diversion courts and similar initiatives by the Honorable Judge Denise Bradley, Director of the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, Teresa May, SAFE Program District Attorney Crystal Okorafor, and graduate of The Women’s Home and STAR court client, Anna Rabe who now works as an account manager and recruiter for a staffing firm

A panel focused on how activism and programs within the community can enact change and provide support with the Executive Director of Angela House, Maureen O’Connell as well as their Associate Director, Alycia Welch, and Brigid’s Hope’s Program Director, Regina Walker.

After lunch, former news anchor and friend to The Home, Fran Fawcett Peterson, introduced the afternoon’s keynote speakers, Senator John Whitmire and Dr. Andrea Leverentz. Senator John Whitmire gave a speech addressing how, from early on in his career, he recognized the need to provide treatment and support instead of punishment to individuals brought into the judicial system for nonviolent drug offenses. The Senator made the point that when dealing with infractions, our justice system often fails to differentiate between whether we are afraid of those who have broken the law or angry with them. This failure means that nonviolent offenders, many of whom are charged for offenses relating to addiction or drug possession, are being sentenced to serve terms that will follow them throughout their life. Senator Whitmire advocated for alternatives such as diversion courts, which allow those brought in on charges like drug possession the opportunity to seek treatment rather than incarceration. He also advocated for a process that would allow for eventual expungement of records after former inmates had made changes to their lives and were again productive citizens.

Dr. Andrea Leverentz followed Senator Whitmire with a presentation elaborating on the research she discussed during her morning break out panel. The author of The Ex-Prisoner’s Dilemma, Leverentz began researching the effects of incarceration upon women after discovering a lack of information and data focused on the gender specific needs of women re-entering society from prison. Dr. Leverentz presented how interviewing formerly incarcerated women in Chicago and Boston revealed a common language the women used for talking about their experiences. Dr. Leverentz noted that this language, adopted from the program provided by a local nonprofit that provided support services to women struggling with addiction and re-entry, created a narrative similar to the 12 step program. She discussed how this narrative was not always appropriate or helpful in facing barriers of re-entry to the community.

The summit broke out again for afternoon sessions covering:

Employment barriers and finding and maintaining work with Second Chance Chief Executive Officer Robert Coleman and Barbara Irving, Career and Recovery Services’ Director of Veteran and Housing Services

The overlap between those facing chronic homelessness and repeat incarceration with Mandy Chapman-Semple, Special Assistant to the Mayor for the Homeless Initiative and Coalition for the Homeless’ Director of Programs Eva Thibaudeau

The Honorable Judge Angela Ellis and Angela House and Healthcare for the Homeless’s Program Director, Dr. Andrea Link discussed how human trafficking and prostitution can trap women in a revolving cycle of incarceration and re-entry and how judicial solutions like GIRL’s Court, a diversion court designed to help minors leave human trafficking and expunge criminal records, and health oriented solutions like The Healthy and Whole program can help

The Honorable Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore, No More Victims Founder, Marilyn Gambrell and Big Brothers Big Sisters Director of Houston Enrollment & Special Projects, Jenifer Butler discussed the impact incarceration can have during and after incarceration on family members, children and caretakers

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church’s Senior Associate Pastor Matt Russell discussed his research on the how men and women differ in building narratives of recovery and viewing their experiences with incarceration

Attorney at Law and Program Director of Beacon Law at The Beacon Leslie Schweinle Ginzel discussed the importance of providing comprehensive legal services to women re-entering society.

The symposium concluded with a keynote speech from Texas House of Representatives Member Senfronia Thompson, who spoke about the recent victory she and her cohorts accomplished that struck down legislation preventing those with drug-related felonies from accessing SNAP food benefits and being able to rent an apartment. She recounted how when an opponent of this change said ex-offenders should be tested if they want to receive food stamps, she countered that they already experience random drug screenings through the judiciary system, and adding an extra layer of testing wastes government funds. Representative Thompson, who has been in office since 1972, spoke about how politics make for strange bedfellows, and that she and her colleagues will be doing work to reduce prison terms across the board in the upcoming legislative sesson.

The Re:Entry Summit bid farewell to over 180 attendees with closing remarks from The Women’s Home Development Director, Marcia Tapp, who thanked the presenters and speakers and affirmed the important work they and those who attended the summit do every day. Marcia also brought to the stage The Women’s Home Intern, Haley Sparks, who worked for months alongside Marcia to help organize the Summit and played an integral role in seeing the event to fruition.