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Tyrone Quarterman, BA, MPH Candidate
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Georgia Kioukis, PhD
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Let’s Start Support Group

Let's Start, Inc.

Let’s Start Support Group Logo

Program Website
Year:
2017
State:
Missouri
Winner Status:
Applicant
Program Type:
Counseling and Support
Target Population:
Individuals involved with the Justice System
Setting:
Community

Program Description

Since 1989, Let’s Start has provided a support group for women impacted by incarceration who need a space to go where they will be listened to without judgement. They talk about the barriers they face as a person re-entering the community, their families’ lives, the workforce, and their relationships. We do this through peer support rather than professional counselors. We have seen the talents, the wonders, and the strength in the women sharing their own personal histories as the tools that guide this support group. We have a Women’s Support Coordinator, a formerly-incarcerated woman herself, who facilitates group or designates a facilitator every week. We provide childcare and we also have volunteers who prepare a meal for attendees. We do have staff who don’t share the personal experiences the women have, but they provide additional support when needs are identified in the support group. The staff stand behind the mission to maintain the women as the central voices from which our community hears. Additionally, our Women’s Support Coordinator and other women from group also facilitate support groups in jails in the St. Louis City and County. When asked to speak with community groups, it is the women who speak.

Creativity

The support group exhibits originality, ingenuity, and resourcefulness in its simple approach: The women have stories that guide, uplift, and motivate one another through some of the biggest, most ongoing struggles they will face. The founding support group didn’t decide to seek professional help with their needs. They determined they needed one another more. They are the experts of their own lives, and therefore are also the greatest resources of this program. The women relate to one another, and it is by their own resourcefulness that this program has been a success. The originality of it depends on community and relationship. Our support group doesn’t close its doors to women, even if they’ve been coming to group for years. Support is an ongoing need. Regardless of how much sobriety or how many years a woman’s incarceration is behind her, some of the barriers are lifelong. Thus the need is lifelong.

Leadership

Women in this program have stepped into leadership roles at all levels of the organization. Beyond facilitating the weekly support groups, program leaders disseminate information through conferences and community talks. Participants share their stories with lawmakers and those working in the criminal justice system. Much of this communication has to do with spreading awareness about their experiences, personal tragedies, missteps, traumas, and triumphs. Impacting policies and educating the community bridge gaps in awareness and de-stigmatize assumptions made about those who have been incarcerated. Participants also serve on the organization’s Board of Directors. By going into the local jails, participants are also able to disseminate information about our program to those in especially vulnerable positions. We produce a newsletter that features a different woman’s story in each edition. These stories are honest, and they are another way we share who our women are with our community and with currently-incarcerated women.

Sustainability

With regard to capacity building and sustainability, there is a lot of support for Let’s Start’s women’s group. We have maintained this as the anchor program of our organization for over 27 years and we continue to have women who have been newly-engaged and women who have been with us for decades. Additionally, we have support from several community groups and local universities that provide volunteers for our childcare room or the meals for the women. Our partnerships include area agencies that also work with women who have been incarcerated. Center for Women in Transition sends women from their transitional program to our support group. We provide transportation to and from group for women in another transitional housing program (overseen by the Missouri Department of Corrections). When we identify additional needs that women in group have we cannot meet, our Women’s Support Coordinator will connect women to other services.

Replicability

Our program relies on peer support. The program requires guidance and input from community members, not necessarily just that of a provider. The relationships Let’s Start relies on for the success of our program have been present since the inception of the organization. Without those relationships, our program would not exist. Our leadership has been spearheaded by women returning from prison and navigating these barriers themselves. We have recognized the vitality of including the voices of those we serve in leadership roles: board members, fundraisers, and public speakers. Other agencies wishing to emulate our model should do so by researching peer support and what it entails. The most important piece is to recognize the women we work with have many of the answers and the guidance we seek. Volunteer support from others supporting the group is also necessary. That’s the first place to begin providing support.

Results/Outcomes

Our Women’s Support Coordinator has facilitated a reentry group in one of Missouri’s women’s prisons. Last year, she spoke to 420 women. Cumulatively in our Tuesday night support groups and in our City and County jail support groups, over 600 women attended last year. Let’s Start participants organized a fundraising committee to raise awareness and money for the organization; the women have spoken publicly to 1015 individuals in the last year alone. The support group continues and the hope they provide has benefited newly-released women who are grateful to hear from other women who come from where they currently are, and have successfully managed to regain their lives and their relationships with friends, family, and children. The Executive Director and the Women’s Support Coordinator have presented at statewide conferences over the years, including the Missouri Reentry Conference, the Spring Training Institute, the Peer Summit Conference, among others.