Women rebuild lives through La. program

8/9/2011

By Betty Backstrom*
UMNS
1:00 P.M. EDT August 9, 2011

A graduate of a Baton Rouge-based re-entry and transitional housing program for women in need said her “misery came to an end” when she became involved in Connections For Life.

“I had hit rock bottom,” said Robyn, now a member of First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, La. “My problems led me down a path to prison. My family was disgusted with my actions, and I didn’t care about myself.”

Connections For Life, a nonprofit organization founded in 2000, offers a 12-month transitional housing and re-entry program to serve women coming from prison, treatment facilities, battered- women’s shelters and other referral agencies. The program provides the women with an efficiency apartment as well as clothing, food, transportation, job-placement help, assistance with children and family reunification and access to health care.

Photo: Karen Stagg (left), board president of Connections For Life in Baton Rouge, La., and Robyn, a graduate of the program, are two of the people who have helped build the mentoring program for women. A UMNS photo by Betty Backsrom.

“The program provides a very structured environment for the women we serve,” said Karen Stagg, board president of Connections For Life.

Residents take classes in financial-management skills and are required to attend recovery meetings. They participate in volunteer work within the program and must contribute toward their expenses after getting jobs. The program’s mission is to help women learn to help themselves and to become productive members of their community.

The ministry meets most women they serve while the women are still in jail or a recovery program.
‘Nowhere left to go’

Stagg says the program is trying to serve women who have “nowhere left to go.

“Their spirits are broken, relationships with their families are not intact and they often don’t believe in themselves. We provide the support, care and structure that they need, but the women do all the hard work as they make the journey on their road to recovery,” she said.

Robyn’s story of transformation is inspirational.

“My deepest belief is in Jesus Christ and the love he has for everyone. Although it was tough, I believe God was acting in my life when I was arrested and sent to prison because I was able to meet Miss Karen. If I can even bring a third of this message out to the world, I am doing something good,” she said.

Robyn attends First United Methodist Church with her husband and their three daughters. She now owns her own janitorial company.

“We worked with Robyn to develop a business plan, and with seed money from Jacob’s Ladder (First United Methodist Church’s microlending ministry), she opened her own business. She currently serves as a mentor for other Connections For Life women who are working to overcome challenges and trying to rebuild their lives. In every way, Robyn always does the right thing,” said Stagg.

Robyn’s journey has served as an example for other women and has helped to change the attitudes of people she meets every day.

“Robyn has proven that no matter how bad things get, anyone can change. She usually ‘blows away’ stereotypes that people might have about those who have been in prison. I think that for those in the church who have gotten to know Robyn and witness her hard work and success and who have helped her, that it has been good thing not just for Robyn but also for our church,” Stagg said.
Thrift store provides funds

A major source of funding for the program is the operation of the Connections For Life Thrift Store. Churches, community members, businesses and others in the area donate items for resale in the store. The thrift store is located in a community of need, which allows the program not only to serve the needs of the women in the program but also to be a good neighbor to the community. The thrift store employs one of the Connections For Life program residents as assistant manager. All women in the program volunteer weekly in the thrift store.

To learn more, contact Connections For Life at (225) 379-3640 or Karen Stagg at Karen@firstmethodist.org. You can also visit www.connectionsforlife.net.

Connections is a 501 (c)3 non-profit founded by Myria Andre-Martin, who has served women in need for more than 30 years and co-founded Myriam’s House in Baton Rouge. Volunteers assist the women and the program and donate items for resale in the thrift store. For the past three years, members of First United Methodist Church have coordinated a golf tournament that benefits the program and assists with much-needed operational funding.

“The program would not exist without the support of the community and area churches. The members of First United Methodist Church are a big part of the program’s continuing success,” Stagg said.

“The members of First United Methodist Church and other churches also provide encouraging words of support to the women and are welcoming and supportive of (each) woman’s efforts to make a new and better life for herself and her children,” she added.

Robyn is passionate about the impact that the program and its volunteers have had on her life.

“Connections gave me the foundation that helped me become a productive member of society. They helped me believe I could surpass the limitations I had set for myself. Connections is responsible for helping me be who and what I am today.”

To learn more, contact Connections For Life at (225) 379-3640 or Karen Stagg at Karen@firstmethodist.org. You can also visit www.connectionsforlife.net.

*Backstrom is communications director of the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference in Baton Rouge, La.

News media contact: Maggie Hillery, Nashville, Tenn., 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.