Ex-offender program needs more funding after too much success

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG TV9)- A Cedar Rapids-based program that works to help former offenders get a fresh start is struggling what might be called too much success.

Jack Parrott, just hours after release from a halfway house, looks off free household items available to the RISE program offices in Cedar Rapids. The program that works with ex-offenders have assisted about 700 people in the first two years.

It’s called Reintegration Initiative for Safety and Empowerment—or simply RISE for short. And in two years of working with former Linn County Jail prisoners and those who have left state custody they’ve assisted a total of about 700 people.

The problem is they only expected about 100 or so per year so the search is on for resources to continue the work at the same level.

Richardo Larios might actually qualify as one of the longer-term success stories for the program. He was last in custody in Linn County for drug and petty theft charges 15 months ago. RISE volunteers helped at first with furnishings, transportation and food.

They told Larios about employers who would hire ex-offenders and he quickly landed an entry level job as a cook.

About 10 weeks ago, he got hired as a cook at a local hospital with full benefits and he says the after-jail program gave him the inspiration to try to succeed and keep from going back to jail.

“The fact there is somebody out there who believes in you without knowing you—I think that triggers a little light bulb in your head. Maybe with some help, I can rise,” Larios said.

Every weekday at the Mission of Hope building on B Avenue NE, volunteers with the RISE program wait for those who’ve left custody to show up.

The program leaves brochures at the jail and even conducts behind-bars classes to let prisoners know what assistance they can get when they leave. For many, the absolute first stop after release is the RISE office.

Jack Parrott is one of those people.

On Thursday, he was looking at some household items that are available free to participants to get a new start. And he literally arrived just hours after leaving custody at a state corrections halfway house in Cedar Rapids.

“It’s just a great program and I like the people and I like to involve myself around these people,” Parrott said.

Program leader Maridee Dugger says it’s important to reach out and make contact just as soon as ex-offenders leave custody.

“We really recommend they come within 48 hours. Because of the risk of addiction they already fact and the rejection they feel in society. It’s so easy to go back to old friends and old ways,” she said.

While Dugger is thrilled the RISE program has helped so many in the first two years the larger-than-expected numbers do present a challenge.

Dugger says the program gets by now with mostly volunteers and a yearly budget of $30,000. That works out to $40 in assistance per former offender.

Grant money that helped begin the program runs out in 2018 so the search is on for a new way to keep the help coming.

That financial search begins Thursday, May 4th with a fundraising program for both RISE and the Fresh Start Ministries with a concert at Cedar Hills Community Church, 6455 E. Ave. NW in Cedar Rapids.

The program that begins at 6:15 pm that night features a band and testimonials from those who’ve gone through the RISE program. Program leaders are hoping to raise about $10,000 from free will offerings.