June 5, 2019

REAP Welcomes Women

Impact 100 president Brigette Brooks, clockwise from top left, REAP board member Dick Baker, Dir. of Women's Services Nicole Cleckler, Executive Director Vinnie Whibbs, Greater Little Rock Baptist Church pastor Lonnie Wesley III, and church singles ministry facilitator Renee Watson pose on the porch of the new REAP transitional home for women in Pensacola.

It's estimated that 60 women will be released from prison and return to the Pensacola area by June of this year.

Without help, many of these women could end up with nowhere to go, or with no other choice but to go back to the same bad environments and habits that landed them in prison in the first place.

However, a local organization called Re-Entry Alliance Pensacola is hoping to give them another option: safe, clean transitional housing where the women can catch their breath, get back on their feet and ease back into a productive and crime-free life.

Thursday, REAP held an open house for its new Impact 100’s Women Portal, a residence at 530 W. Strong St. where women will be provided not only shelter, but be connected to case management, job training, substance abuse counseling and other services.

"Having housing in this transitional program is paramount for them because it takes away all those major worries and then now they can focus on getting their life together, their personal issues, their family issues and getting employment," Nicole Cleckler, Director of Women's Services

REAP works in partnership with the Florida Department of Corrections, and Clecker has been in contact with inmates at seven facilities around the state to pre-screen them for eligibility. The program is open to non-violent offenders, and Clecker stressed that anyone who volunteers for the program must be committed to finding a job, fulfilling their legal obligations and becoming an independent, productive member of society.

Clecker will maintain an office in the residence to ensure there are no illegal activities, disruptive visitors or maintenance issues at the property. The home currently sleeps six, and REAP estimates the average resident's stay will be about six month. Residents entering the program through a referral from prison will be able to stay at the residence rent-free for the first few week, but there is a $100-a-week "program fee" for upkeep of the residence and to give program participants "a sense of personal responsibility that comes with hard work and discipline."

REAP is hoping that if this program proves successful, it can be expanded to include additional homes in the community. The current residence is being rented from the neighboring Greater Little Rock Baptist Church, and the program's case management and building renovations are funded through a grant from Impact 100. Many of the home's furnishing come from community donors such as Home Depot.

Julie Gaither, circuit administrator for the Florida Department of Corrections, attended the open house Thursday and said she thinks the transitional housing program will be a wonderful addition to REAP's suite of services.

"Currently, we don't have enough resources for women in this community, so this will be a big benefit," Julie Gaither, FDOC.

REAP's core mission is to help men and women re-entering our community from years of incarceration get a fresh start and the basic skills and resources to survive and compete. Those basic resources begin with a government issued identification card, dependable housing, dependable food, dependable medical/mental health care, dependable transportation, healthy relationships, greater education, training and continuing cognitive behavior therapy, according to REAP.

Story by Kevin Robinson, originally published by the Pensacola News Journal | 6:00 a.m. CT March 1, 2019. Photo: Gregg Pachkowski/gregg@pnj.com

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