Mentor Support offers a Second Chance
“You meet people [at Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota] that care a little more than you think. Volunteers, advocates, people who work here. They want to see you do good, they want to see you succeed. It’s something I’m really grateful for.”
– Dennis, participant in the Goodwill/Easter Seals’ Second Chance Mentor Project
After spending six years in a correctional institution, Dennis started preparing for life back home. He journaled about his experiences, decided to cut off old acquaintances and attended a meeting with David Mirambeaux, a case manager for Goodwill/Easter Seals’ FATHER Project. While participating in the FATHER Project, Dennis spent time in a group for dads who wanted to learn to be more supportive of their kids. Dennis felt good about the work he was doing, but to be successful in his new life, it seemed he needed more.
Through his connections at the FATHER Project, Dennis met Marlana Horejsi, Mentor Coordinator for the Goodwill/Easter Seals’ Second Chance Mentor Project. Marlana suggested Dennis might benefit from joining a group that paired fathers with a criminal history with volunteer mentors and also met regularly as a group. The Mentor Project created another turning point for Dennis. Participating in group discussions, where people shared their experiences, was extremely foreign to him. He is now comfortable talking about day to day experiences—good or bad—and having a plan for his life. He has learned that conversations help him pinpoint and recognize his own success and development. Additionally, he has rekindled relationships with friends and family who have watched him struggle. “You don’t meet a lot of people who say, ‘yeah, you can do it,’” the way people who have known him for years do. Those are the people he wants to be around.
When Dennis’ mentor, Tom, first met Dennis, he wasn’t sure the relationship would work. Tom says, “Dennis seemed young. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. But I realized that I wanted to work with different people. And since then, I’ve seen Dennis grow. He obviously tries and wants to change.” Tom is no stranger to second chances. At the age of 10, Tom says, “I was my own boy.” He had little adult supervision or guidance and “ran the streets.” Of his five close friends from childhood, three are serving sentences in a correctional institution until age 65 and two have recently been released. Twenty-five years ago, if you talked to Tom’s family, they would have told you he was destined to go to prison. Tom says, “I guess I was blessed to do something else.” While he has been arrested several times, Tom has never been incarcerated. He attributes his change of heart to being arrested, at age 21, in front of his small daughter. He says, “That memory of her toddling around the corner in her diaper, seeing me in handcuffs, lives with me. I need to help others see that light. This is bigger than just them.”
When Tom first came to Goodwill/Easter Seals, it was to find a job. When there were no open positions available, he looked into volunteer opportunities, found two and pursued both. Today, Tom works for Goodwill Stores, processing donations, and volunteers as a Second Chance Mentor and a computer lab assistant. He says, “One of the things I love about Goodwill/Easter Seals is the opportunity to help, the opportunity to give people the tools they need to get on the right path. I have not been around anything like this before and I think it’s absolutely great.” Tom thrives on helping people who have not had easy lives, who perhaps have lived on the streets or have not come from good homes. Today, he not only supports himself financially, but also is seen as a big brother to many Second Chance mentees.
Tom’s hope for Dennis is that he will learn to live a better life and take advantage of services offered by places like Goodwill/Easter Seals. “[I want him] to gain the knowledge of how to be a man in this world. When you walk through these doors, you have to be different. You’re here to work and gain knowledge. There’s a difference between playing and working. There’s a way to handle yourself at work.” When Dennis talks about his relationship with Tom, he says, “Tom and I don’t come from similar places, but we communicate easily. I can be blunt when something’s on my mind…Tom keeps me committed. He says, ‘if you don’t stay, you won’t get the payoff.’”
Hard work and payoffs—these are things both men value, making their second chances all the more meaningful. Dennis is fully engaged with the Second Chance Mentor Program and FATHER Project, works part-time in janitorial services at Goodwill/Easter Seals and is studying to be a chef. He sees himself as a serious man who is following his dreams and being a better dad. On top of work and volunteering, Tom is battling early-onset Parkinson’s disease, and yet manages to be a leader in his community, set a good example for his kids and generally have a positive outlook on life. The collaboration between this mentor and mentee, the support and strength they get from one another, epitomizes a Goodwill/Easter Seals program at its best: where preparing for WORK—and also in this case, reentry into society—transforms lives for the better.