As a 50 year-old organization, Fortune has naturally experienced changes and evolutions. But we’re proud to have remained a trustworthy safe space for individuals with justice involvement, with staff members who have dedicated their lives to giving paths to hope.
A core member of our team for 28 years, Director of Centralized Admissions Nancy Lopez was the first person who our President and CEO JoAnne Page hired. As an employee, she’s worked in various roles, but each one circled back to her main goal: to ensure that each participant is given an opportunity to succeed. “I wanted to stay involved with the [participants],” she notes, “I wanted to roll [up] my sleeves and be able to provide services. I didn’t want to stay away from that.”
Today, the team of 10 individuals that she manages serve as gatekeepers for the organization. “Anyone [who comes to Fortune], we’re the first ones they see at the Admissions unit.” Introductions are important, so Nancy treats this position with great care, and encourages her team to do the same. After all, she herself has experienced justice involvement, and understands how transformative a listening ear can be. “They might have been like me,” she notes:
“I think that when a person is [coming home] from prison…[and coming] into [Fortune] for their first time, they need to meet with people who are caring, welcoming, passionate about what they do,…and serious enough to listen to what they’re saying. And listen to what they’re not saying.”
Indeed, the art of listening helps all in community-focused roles understand barriers to success in nuanced ways. One persistent barrier for Fortune participants that Nancy has repeatedly heard? The lack of housing in the community.
“Some people don’t have [a support system]” she mentions,”…because they burned all their bridges prior to going into prison, their families are wary and scared, and say ‘You’re not coming into my house. You’re going to have to find a place [to stay].’ So, they have to go to a shelter, they sleep on the train—they sleep anywhere. They have to, because some people don’t want to go to the shelter because the shelters are worse sometimes.”
Through emergency, supportive, and transitional housing, Fortune has helped hundreds of justice-involved individuals and their families avoid the consequences associated with housing insecurity. Our capacity has widened over the years, but inequities in community reentry still remain. One may assume that a career in service spanning nearly thirty years, in a field with many battles still left to fight, would lead to disillusionment. But Nancy finds new motivation with each individual she encounters. The spark of hope in their eyes consistently reignites her passion.
“[The] people that come in, they motivate me because…I want to help them so much that I do whatever I can. I go out of my way to help somebody, even if it’s early or late, or it’s the impossible. I have this passion in me…and I try to instill that same passion to my staff, which I think I’ve done a pretty good job at.”
Staff quickly turns into family at Fortune. Empowered by the shared belief that all individuals with justice involvement deserve opportunities to begin anew, bonds are formed in the relentless push for progress.
“I think that all of us here, no matter what capacity we’re in, we all want to do the same thing: We all want to help that someone, give somebody hope, and give them a second opportunity. We believe in change and I believe in that, [too].”
As a contributor to Fortune’s 50-year legacy of building community for people with justice involvement, this belief has enabled Nancy to transform the lives of many individuals. She has seen individuals come into Fortune unemployed, then take part in our Employment Services program and leave as entrepreneurs. She has seen once-broken families healed after enrolling in our Family Services program, or individuals find courage to leave negative environments and relocate to new states, filled with new opportunities.
And she has seen a transformation in herself, as someone no longer bound by their past, but defined by their present actions: “I was always a good friend, a good family member, a good sister, a good daughter,” she says, “But today I feel like I’m just a good person. And I like being that person.
*Article by David Leon Morgan