Vocational and Life Skills grantees break down barriers, find solutions

Vocational and Life Skills grantees break down barriers, find solutions


CONTACT Cara Wilwerding, Communications Manager

OFFICE 402-479-5712 | cara.wilwerding@nebraska.gov

Note: This is the first of an eight-part series about Vocational and Life Skills programs funded by LB907. Follow along to learn more about the programs’ goals, expectations and successes.

Nov. 17, 2017 (Lincoln, Neb.) – The need to obtain and maintain meaningful employment upon release from prison is critical to one’s success in living a crime-free life. More than 93 percent of Nebraska’s prison population will reenter the community and finding work with a criminal record and little to no work history can be challenging.

“When you’ve been in prison for a long time, you’ve been cut off from the rest of the world and getting back out there is scary,” Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) Reentry Administrator Grace Sankey-Berman said.

Successful reentry results in safer communities, fewer victims and fewer people returning to prison. In 2014, to address the need for employment upon release, the Legislature appropriated funds to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) to focus resources on reentry, which included $3.5 million in aid.  

NDCS established a grant process to award funds to organizations to provide programs, services or training that will result in meaningful employment. The programs target individuals who are incarcerated or under the supervision of parole or probation, and for up to 18 months following discharge.

Currently, there are seven grant-funded organizations (grantees) that provide these services: ReConnect, Inc.; Center for People in Need; Western Alternative Corrections, Inc.; Metropolitan Community College; Mental Health Association of Nebraska; Williams Prepared Place; Associated Builders and Contractors.

The first funds were awarded in February 2015, with much of the focus on individuals to begin the provision of services as soon as possible – helping people begin work as soon as they are released. The second grant cycle put a greater emphasis on beginning training and skill building prior to release.

Grantees provide a variety of services such as resume writing, interview prep, welding and construction classes and personal development opportunities. Grantees also teach individuals basic life skills that they may have never considered after years in prison. For example, skills such as budgeting, developing healthy hobbies and finding reliable transportation are often lacking.

“These are real things that we don’t even think about; that we take for granted,” Sankey-Berman said. “It’s about getting people engaged and occupied.”

In the first grant cycle, grantees served 1,756 participants. In the second grant cycle, grantees served 2,661 participants – a 51.54 percent increase from the previous year.  

The organizations serve a dual purpose in the fact that most employ formerly incarcerated individuals. They understand that just helping former offenders find resources is not enough. It’s about having someone to talk to; to be able to pick up the phone and call – any hour of the day or night.

“Because they’ve lived it, they know the potential problems that individuals face when they release,” Sankey-Berman said. “They’ve navigated the terrain out there, they know the barriers and how to find solutions. They have empathy for the struggle.”

VLS programs not only change lives, but they change stereotypes.

“The skills that VLS programs teach both inside and outside of prison are vital to successful reentry,” NDCS Director Scott R. Frakes said. “They inspire positive thinking and foster hope.”

In the coming weeks we will highlight the work being done by all seven current grantees. Follow along for detailed information on each grantee and the vital work they are doing to further NDCS’ mission – ‘Keep people safe.’