For the third year in a row, the West Ohio Conference and its community partners convened the Ohio reentry community at the Building Bridges Community Experience, on October 12-13. Over 400 reentry allies, criminal justice professionals, community service providers, ministry volunteers, and returning neighbors gathered in-person and online to focus on creating more safe, stable housing and meaningful employment for and with our neighbors coming home from an incarceration experience.
The Community Experience welcomed HUD Regional Administrator Diane M. Shelley as the opening keynote. Throughout the two days, participants learned of federal, state, and local housing and employment efforts from 80 panelists and facilitators in 30 different sessions. Participants found meaning and inspiration from each other throughout the two days together.
Here are a few comments from participants:
“Seeing the reentry community as a whole…we can do this together! I saw everyone with a heart; there were so many people of faith. Even those in the government are also faithful. It was an inspiration to be among so many like-minded people.”
“I took lots of notes during the presentations and will use that information in helping the women I work with preparing for reentry. I especially appreciated hearing from the presenters who have been incarcerated and successfully reintegrated into their communities. It was inspiring to hear the passion and commitment of other people working with incarcerated men and women and helping them return home.”
According to Community Experience Coordinator Reba Collins, one aspect that makes the Community Experience unique from other reentry events is the planning team’s intentionality around creating connection, collaboration, and community by designing sessions that model inclusivity and equity.
“One of our values as a planning team is balanced representation of our panelists and facilitators,” Reba said. “We try to have an agency representative, a boots-on-the-ground practitioner, and a restored/returned neighbor for each session. We believe this not only provides a more wholistic perspective of the topic or experience; it also models the value and belonging of all community members in reentry efforts.”
West Ohio thanks its planning partners, Community Experience sponsors, panelists and facilitators, and the Ohio reentry community for making this years’ Experience impactful for all who participated.