“Let me tell you how valuable a letter is to an inmate,” starts James Clay, former Horizon Ministry Initiative leader and new member of Grace UMC. Last July, James came to Grace UMC and stayed partly because he connected with a support group for families with incarcerated loved ones lead by Deacon-in-Residence, Rev. Amelia Boomershine. It was at this time that the H.O.P.E. group began to feel the itch to serve others walking on a similar path. James’ new presence sparked the group into action. After listening to James’ experience, they decided to reach inside the prison walls to offer encouragement, non-judgmental companionship, and a listening ear to the forgotten men and women from their community.
Amelia recalls, “It was in the context of a H.O.P.E. meeting this past September that the idea of HOPE Letters was born. James, who attended my program at Chillicothe in 2013, began attending Grace this past summer. He joined H.O.P.E. in September, and at that meeting suggested a letter-writing project. His suggestion resonated with everyone and met our aspiration to be an action group. James named the proposed project ‘HOPE Letters.’”
James and Amelia began putting in place the structure to fulfill the H.O.P.E. group’s vision. They spoke during worship about the H.O.P.E. small group ministry and its new HOPE Letters project. And they led an informational meeting in November with training by Chaplain Sylvia Moseley of Dayton Correctional Institution for Women. To their surprise, over 25 people showed up from as far away as Worthington and from other area churches. This same group gathered in December where the men began corresponding with men and the women wrote Christmas cards to women incarcerated in the Montgomery County jail.
In order to correspond with women in prison, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) Faith-based Initiatives Coordinator, Gary Croft, suggested writing a proposal for a correspondence program with a reentry support emphasis. The resulting proposal was approved by the ODRC’s Office of Reentry and sent to the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW).
In late February 2019, Mr. Croft, Reba Collins (All In Community consultant), Amelia, and Benton Stull (Grace UMC’s Restorative Justice Intern) met with ORW Warden Ronette Burkes-Trowsdell, Deputy Warden Teri Baldauf, and Chaplain Pamela Rudolph to review the HOPE Letter proposal and formalize arrangements for the selection of ORW’s HOPE Letter participants. The first letters will be sent to them this month.
Since its approval in December, Amelia and James have had several requests for assistance in launching other HOPE Letter sites across West Ohio. These groups are all in various stages of development, so it’s not too late to change a life with a letter. Live in Dayton? Grace UMC’s H.O.P.E group welcomes you. Contact Amelia at amelia [at] gotell.org for information. Lima-area letter writers contact Jessie Roark at St. Mark’s UMC (Lima) at smcresourcecenter1 [at] gmail.com. The Foothills District UMW welcome women and men to learn about their two HOPE Letter Pilot Projects in Athens and Zanesville. They are hosting two HOPE Letter Information Meeting and Trainings this coming Saturday, March 16th. Contact Carlene Triplett at carlenetriplett [at] yahoo.com for details and to register. Powell UMC has an All In group that is scheduling a similar event later this Spring.