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November 16, 2012

Non-profit works to redirect lives, erase felony charges

A local nonprofit that endeavors to reduce prison recidivism for women struggling with substance abuse got a boost Thursday, thanks to a fundraising effort aimed at strengthening the year-old program’s presence in Cullman.

Restoring Women Outreach, Inc., which provides full-time transitional living for a select number of women who’d otherwise find themselves behind bars for recurring drug convictions, partners with local courts, employers and educational programs to help them make decisions that can instead put them on track for a productive future.

Director Carol Berry, busy Thursday greeting guests at a fundraiser hosted by Eckenrod Ford in Cullman, said the program addresses a dire need for transitional living — a term she greatly prefers to ‘halfway house‘ — to assist Cullman women who, with a little guidance, can turn from a cyclical pattern of drug abuse to one of helping others and joining the ranks of productive citizens on the right side of the law.

“If they don’t go to us, they go to the penitentiary. So this is their last stop,” said Berry. “With us, they’re given weekly therapy at no cost. They participate in the local 12-step AA program — they have to do at least one meeting a day. They do a lot of community service. These girls have been sentenced either to the penitentiary or to jail, but — if they make it into and then complete this program — then their felony goes away and their life goes on in a much better and very different direction.”

Partnerships with local agencies, churches, businesses and public services help create opportunities that strengthen residents’ ties to the community. Berry said agreements between the outreach and Wallace State, as well as with prospective employers, have been crucial in helping the women improve their life skills through education and through acclimating to a stable working environments.

Restoring Women Outreach has housed as many women as it can accommodate since its start — it’s at maximum capacity now with five residents — and money is a factor that enormously limits the program’s scope. But it’s not the only factor, and Berry said the program is always in need of materials, volunteers and community partners who’d like to give of their time, their services and — in the case of potential employers — their trust.

“Right now, employment is a really big deal for us,” said Berry. “I want them to work day jobs, whether that be in fast food or in something else, and we are always looking to establish those connections with people who may be able to work with us.”

There are several ways you can help Restoring Women Outreach nurture women to play positive roles in the community:

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