*Editor’s note: Foundation of HOPE has since changed their address since this article was written. They are now located at 540 Suismon St.
By Alyse Horn
Located at 114 W. North Ave., the Foundation of HOPE Aftercare program is an essential element for helping ex-offenders get back on their feet.
“It taught us that changing our lives all starts with changing our thinking,” Jessica Gutshall said. She and her husband Randy have been in the program for about six months.
Jody Raeford, the HOPE Aftercare program director, said there was recently a dinner held in the couples honor to show support for the strides they have made since entering the program.
Gutshall said she and her husband were both in the HOPE Pre-release program at Allegheny County Jail, which then led to their enrollment in the Aftercare program.
“One thing that is unique about the HOPE program is no one is mandated to be there,” Gutshall said. “Everyone who does it really has a desire to change.”
She also noted that the staff and volunteers in both programs made a lasting impact that helped the couple get to where they are today.
“It is awesome to realize people are taking their time to help because they really care,” Gutshall said.
The programs implement a support system for inmates and ex-offenders that support positive initiatives to reinforce change. The Aftercare location on W. North Avenue allows clients free access to computers and free postage, as well as a space to charge cell phones, and assistance in obtaining a driver’s license and GED training.
“It’s a safe, welcoming place for [people] to come, exist, and grow,” Raeford said. “You’re treated as human beings and given space to develop your future.”
The program also assists clients in getting employment and housing; provides mental health services, and clothing.
Raeford said that every third Wednesday of the month, the program works with Light of Life to provide clients with clothes for job interviews.
Another asset, each client is matched with a mentor when they enter the Pre-Release program, and that mentor stays with the client into the Aftercare program.
Ex-offenders are also encouraged to attend a weekly support group held on Tuesday’s at the W. North Avenue location from 7-8 p.m., and at 6 p.m. there is a mindfulness group run by Dr. Richard King.
For more information on the Foundation of HOPE, visit www.foundationofhope.org or call (412) 321-3343.