In mid-October, the 2021 Building Bridges Community Experience welcomed over 235 participants and presenters to virtually connect and collaborate around justice-involved ministry. Almost one-third of those were returned/restored citizens, whose voices brought experience and expertise to the table alongside reentry service providers and criminal justice professionals. “I was overwhelmed at learning about the many and varied programs, all with the common thread of helping those incarcerated as they re-enter society,” said Paula Nourse, UMW Mission Coordinator for the West Ohio Conference. “Find a ministry that fits you. Justice is served when all voices are heard."
When asked what was most meaningful to them, participants remarked:
“The feeling of connection. Even with the trying times we are all experiencing, I felt the connections that everyone involved wanted our returning citizens to be supported and successful.”
"Listening to lived experiences of restored citizens and looking to engage with them to continue fostering community, belonging, and hope.”
“To feel heard and seen as a restored citizen.”
“Being a part of the 2021 Community Experience was a tremendous blessing,” said Zach Ruppel from the Restored Citizens Collaborative, a Planning Team member and presenter. “My relationship in the past with ‘the church’ has been tentative at best, and as someone with justice involvement, it is easy to feel like a second-class Christian and second-class citizen. My experience with this event was not only spiritually edifying, but truly a restorative experience. Having a ‘seat at the table’ for returning citizens and community advocates is imperative not only for building bridges of opportunity but also for doing the important work of changing hearts and minds surrounding an all-too-prevalent retributive approach to justice in society. Each session offered a different opportunity to connect and to remind each other why we do the work each day.”
In only its second year, the Building Bridges Community Experience continues to have far-reaching impacts through the connections it facilitates.
“Community transformation can't happen without connection and collaboration among co-laborers who deeply desire to see lives transformed through relationship,” stated Reba Collins, West Ohio consultant and the event’s organizer. “So, thank you again for bringing your passion to creating community for and with our justice-involved neighbors and allies.”