Building Bonds in the Community
From M2C to Building Bonds in the Community, this volunteer driven program within CJHS offers tailored support to individuals exiting prison.
Since the program has no end date, the participants feel it is “flexible and adaptive” to their needs.
“There is such a vast diversity of what out I can get out of what [CJHS] is doing. Financial help, emotional help, psychological help,” says Don, a program participant. “I can come here and just be me and I’m not worried about anything.”
This is achieved by providing social connections to those who need it through regular group activities, which are decided upon by the volunteers, coordinators, and participants.
“It’s really just an open conversation in terms of what people would like to do,” says Matt, a program volunteer.
The activities can range from movie nights to hikes but is always something that everyone looks forward to.
In a non COVID-19 year, the group goes on an annual camping trip in August, which Dave, a program participant, “looks forward to every year.”
Before joining the program, he had not been camping in a quite some time. Despite not liking water and bringing the wrong size tent his first year in the program, it is still his favourite activity.
The participants have been meeting virtually for the past year and had been missing their regular, in-person activities, until a small gap in the restrictions allowed them to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast.
“Normally, we have 10 or 15 people every activity that show up but this time everybody showed up. I think there was 35 people there,” says the program coordinator. “It was just music and food and there was so much going on. I really liked that that day, it was really fun.”
Don says the most impactful part, for him, is the friendships that stem from the group activities.
“What [CJHS] has got going on here is a safe haven,” he says.
The program creates meaningful connections between the volunteers and participants, so the group can be their safe haven, and they feel comfortable talking whenever they need.
“[When I first joined the group] I was a little shy. But everybody made me feel totally welcome,” says Dave. “Now, whenever I have issues, good or bad. I have no problem at all calling [someone in the group] and just talking.”
Knowing they are also changing the lives of others; volunteers are impacted through the time they invest into the program and are glad to be able to see the positive changes in the participants.
“Maybe some people have an aha moment of ‘wow, I’ve really changed.’ Or maybe it’s a slow and gradual change, but I think regardless, people are changing because of programs like this,” says Matt.
Often times, the program has a meaningful impact on participants, even after they have left the group.
“I’ve seen a life within them, that they were reborn. And it’s wonderful to see,” says a Todd, program volunteer. “I still remember one lady kept coming and I never knew who she was with among the guys. [I found out] it was one of their sister’s. And she said to me, ‘you people will never know what this group has meant to my brother, his life had just turned around. Just turned around.”
For everyone involved, the group feels like a second family, which creates a sense of belonging many clients are often searching for.
“Everybody needs their own little help through life, and [sometimes] it just takes that one little chat to turn someone’s life around with this group,” says Dave.