The hope our founder David Rothenberg began offering to justice-involved individuals in 1967 centered on the premise that everyone deserves opportunities to thrive. Now in our 50th year, we remain committed to this foundation of love– it continues to be our anchor.
Like all Fortune staff members, Virginia Lasoski-Nepa, Senior Director of Family Services and Admissions, follows the tradition that David began. Each participant she encounters at Fortune is an individual whose success is important to her. As a woman with justice experience herself, she understands firsthand the difficulties they face, and often encourages them to view success as a journey that takes time. “It’s not important how soon you get to the finish line,” she notes, “What’s important [are the things] you do in between the steps…”
For those moments in between and beyond, Fortune is there. One of the programs that Virginia leads, Family Services, helps participants maintain, create, and strengthen family bonds, a vital part of successful reentry. From learning how to deescalate disagreements with loved ones to getting assistance with child support payments, our Family Services program provides holistic paths forward for families with a range of varying dynamics.
Through patience and committed work, participants experience transformative results, which fills Virginia’s heart with joy each time she sees it. “[In Family Services,] we do outings at least four times a year, [like celebrating Father’s Day or hosting a large holiday party.] When you sit down and see… a father introduce his child and his child’s mother, and you know from past conversations that things haven’t been too great between mother and father, [but] all of a sudden they’re with their child, taking pictures and conversing. Those are the highlights that make everything that we do within the organization worthwhile.”
At Fortune, we call these kinds of experiences “mission moments–” they embody the purpose David Rothenberg set out to achieve so many years ago. Virginia and her teams make it a point to create mission moments at every opportunity, and in the smallest of ways. As head of our Admissions program, for instance, she’s intentional about personally greeting individuals who have just returned from incarceration. They especially need to know that there are people who care for their wellbeing: “I make it my business to… give them a hug, and say, ‘If you need anything, here’s my number. Just call me.'”
That simple invitation of kindness can help an individual see new possibilities, and initiate the process of breaking down barriers to healing. Virginia reminds men especially that facades of machismo they may have acquired in prison as a means of survival are not necessary here— in fact, tears are welcome. “It’s fine to cry,” Virginia says, “There’s nothing wrong with it. It makes you stronger.”
Through frequent trainings and workshops, Fortune educates staffers like Virginia on the importance of making participants feel comfortable opening up in this way. Many times, it begins with them genuinely knowing that they’re being heard. As Virginia shares, “…when we have staff meetings, we talk about the importance of listening to [participants], letting [them talk,] and then, at some point… interject something or even just… take in what they’re saying, then say it back to them, [like] ‘What I hear you saying is this” [or] ‘Tell me a little bit more about that.’” Listening thoughtfully is a signal of respect, and an example of what love looks like at Fortune. As Virginia shares: “It is [like family here]. It really is. And it’s driven from the top down and from the bottom up. It goes both ways.”
*Article by David Leon Morgan