New Journey Mission helps with a fresh start

By Page H. Gifford

Getting a new start is never easy, particularly after traumatic events in one’s life. Incarceration is one of those life changes.

Palmyra United Methodist Church’s New Journey Mission provides a helping hand to those returning to society. One of the four coordinators of the program, Kay Snodgrass, explained how the program began.

In 2013 Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) began offering college classes at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) in Troy. The idea for New Journey grew out of a conversation with “Marie,” a former student at FCCW.

“Upon her release, Marie visited Palmyra United Methodist Church (PUMC) and shared some of the personal challenges that awaited women getting out of prison. She said that the challenges on the outside are difficult to overcome because of the lack of resources available and the stigma of having been incarcerated,” said Snodgrass. “Marie said that on the inside lots of people are willing to come in and talk about God. But once they get out, there are not many of them around to help. She shared some names of people who were getting out of FCCW soon that we could get in touch with if we wanted to help.”

PVCC instructor Nancy Burkhart and prayer partner Snodgrass discussed the needs and opportunity to serve with Pastor George Gorman, who helped gather some PUMC volunteers who expressed a desire to help inmates make a successful transition upon release. The committee looked into effective and secure ways of communicating with and providing some aid to the inmates when they left prison.

The Rev. Lynn Litchfield, former FCCW chaplain and current development director of Grace Inside – which supplies chaplains to Virginia prisons – talked with Snodgrass, Burkhart and others about ways to help.

“Pastor Gorman reached out to a pastoral network for suggestions,” said Snodgrass. “We called our mission New Journey, indicating a new and better life we hoped they would lead, and we began referring to the released inmates as ‘sojourners’ because of the uncharted territory they have to navigate when they get out. Our hope was that we would be traveling alongside them at the beginning. We also didn’t like using prison words, such as ‘offender’ and ‘inmate,’ to refer to these women who had paid their debt to society.”

Snodgrass and the others exhibit grace and the true meaning of forgiveness while giving aid to those who need it when there is nowhere else to turn.

By traveling the journey with the sojourners, Snodgrass admitted they got an education on what it is like for these people after release, and said they have little to look forward to.

“We learned that the majority of people leaving prison are poor and often have little access to helpful resources, especially if they go back to rural communities,” she said. “Without help, they are vulnerable to getting in trouble with the law again.”

Since 2015, the main mission of New Journey has been providing their sojourners with clothing as well as personal care items so they can immediately participate with dignity in community life. Snodgrass said they sometimes meet special requests if possible.

“We actually meet the sojourners on their first day out, but will also mail items if they are unable to meet with us. We do not proselytize to our faith, but let our actions speak as our witness,” said Snodgrass.

She added that their focus has been on Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women because it is close, and they were able to obtain the names and contact information of their first sojourners from Marie to get started. Now through word of mouth, they get 15 or more unsolicited requests for help per month.

There are four coordinators that organize the program and keep it rolling. Nancy Burkhart, the coordinator for the administrative team, is responsible for processing the applications, answering questions, keeping a master spreadsheet of upcoming meet ups, and updating the other coordinators. She also puts together the personal care kits.

Rita Gorman and Laura Keeton are the coordinators of the inventory team. They receive donations of clothing and toiletries, sort and organize them, shop, and pack the items for distribution.

Snodgrass is coordinator of the distribution team. They are responsible for lining up volunteers for meeting or mailing the packages, and coordinating meet ups with sojourners’ families coming to pick them up. She also performs some overall administrative tasks.

The coordinators make operational decisions and help out with the various tasks as needed. Other volunteers help with sorting, packing, meeting with sojourners, shopping, mailing packages, and helping with administrative tasks as well. There is a lot to do and these busy ladies have it well under control.

“We have helped over 150 people since 2015 with the numbers growing each year,” Snodgrass said.

They hope to make it a little easier for folks getting out of prison to integrate smoothly into society and reduce the likelihood of them returning to prison.

“As a faith-based mission, we also aim to encourage them and witness to the love of God by our actions. We want them to know that somebody believes in them and is eager to give them another chance,” Snodgrass said.

Eventually they would like to encourage other churches to become New Journey centers, serving other state prisons or adopting an additional service to add to PUMC’s. Such services might include collecting dishes, flatware and cookware. By dividing what is collected at different locations, the problem of storage would be eliminated while offering more items to set up housekeeping.

“Most of the people getting out of FCCW, which is a state facility, are not from this local area and settle in other parts of the state or country,” Snodgrass said. “We would love to be able to direct them to welcoming churches in those communities, establishing an informal network of support.”

PUMC can always use more volunteers to help with the various tasks that make up their operation. Members of the community may also make a tax deductible donation to Palmyra United Methodist Church (designated for New Journey), P.O. Box 151, Palmyra, Va., 22963.

They also accept donations of new women’s sneakers, flats, socks, underwear, towels and washcloths, and new or gently used seasonal clothing. Snodgrass asks that those who would like to donate call first to determine needs as their storage capacity is limited.

For more information about this program, to volunteer or donate, call Pastor George Gorman of Palmyra United Methodist Church at 434-222-7293.



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