Helping Hands

Helping Hands

03/10/2017

For many justice-involved individuals reentering the community, the road to productivity is filled with many obstacles. Securing housing and employment, accessing SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) benefits or health insurance: All of these and more can be met with unforeseen difficulties. Even tasks that may seem simple to others, like getting an identification card, are uniquely challenging for individuals within this group. Although New York State allows formerly incarcerated individuals to use their prison ID to get official IDs like a driver’s license or non-driver ID, they are often stranded in “bureaucratic limbo,” notes Nicholas Posada, Benefits Coordinator for our Single Stop program. This is coupled with financial difficulties associated with obtaining required documents. As Nicholas shares: “The cost of a birth certificate and a social security card can be a challenge, [which creates additional hurdles to] getting an ID.”

Because of these obstacles, having compassionate people in a justice-involved individual’s corner to help guide them in the right direction is often invaluable. It’s the kind of work that Nicholas does every day. Through the Single Stop program, participants gain clarity on the specific benefits available to them, and the process needed to obtain each one. “[We connect] people with expert advice, and [help them gain] access to entitlements— all in one place,” Nicholas notes. This type of assistance can be just what an individual needs to regain balance in a changing world.

In his eight years as a Fortune team member, Nicholas has helped many participants navigate that unending change— “…over 10,000,” he shares. The experience consistently reinforces within him the vital need for criminal justice reform, which he as already aware of before joining Fortune: “I already knew…how people without resources had a hard time with reentry,” he shares. Luckily, Nicholas also began Fortune with a caring, community-minded disposition.

These are important traits: Seeing people as people is key to his role, and vital to the Fortune mission at-large. Unfortunately, outside of Fortune, unjust stigmas repeatedly dehumanize justice-involved individuals in small and large ways, making their paths to success unnecessarily difficult. But, for the benefit of all, a little understanding could go a long way: “…people don’t realize, when they’re sitting on the subway, how many people next to them have been to prison, or are homeless, or are [challenged with drug use],” Nicholas shares.

Employers could especially find value in this kind of compassion— it would help them see how hiring justice-involved individuals strengthens their business. As Nicholas points out, “…something I learned [at Fortune is that] people who are coming out of prison and looking for jobs [are] hard workers. A lot of employers should consider that these people want to prove themselves more than the average [individual].”

Daily, Nicholas offers pathways to resources that transform the tragically neglected into vital members of the community. Though core parts, it’s more than helping participants secure SNAP benefits or Medicaid. Through understanding and patience, he and his colleagues share freedom: “People need access to things that help them support themselves.”

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