Retired CTF Associate Warden William Wilson congratulates inmate facilitators for the Help Workshop. Photo courtesy Smart TV.

Retired CTF Associate Warden William Wilson congratulates inmate facilitators for the Help Workshop. Photo courtesy Smart TV.

By Renee Adams-Barnes
HELP Community Sponsor

The Higher Education Library Project (HELP) held its first Leadership4Life graduation in the Correctional Training Facility (CTF) visiting room.

Unlike other California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation graduations, these graduates were not inmates, but instead young students from Hartnell College’s Academy of College Excellence (ACE) program in Salinas.

One participant captured the sentiment of the graduating class.

“This is a really great program that needs to keep running so you guys can reach out to other young students and troubled teens (in order) to teach them the value of their lives and that there really is more to life,” he said.

HELP is an Inmate Leisure Time Activity Group (ILTAG) at CTF. One of HELP’s missions is to promote the post-secondary education of incarcerated students. The group came into existence with the primary purpose of assisting motivated individuals with their collegiate aspirations.

Due to the expected restrictions that come with incarceration, especially the lack of financial resources, HELP created a college library to assist its membership. As a result, inmates who could not otherwise afford to go to college can now check out college textbooks.

To date, HELP’s library contains over 400 textbooks and serves an average of 250 inmates enrolled in college. Both the library and college program are ran, coordinated, and directed by Mary Eifler, HELP’s primary sponsor.

It was not long before it became clear to HELP that there also are many people struggling with their education in the surrounding communities.

HELP expanded its mission to include local ACE students by establishing a scholarship fund with the Hartnell College Foundation. With every fundraiser conducted by HELP, the group donates a minimum of either $500 or 10 percent of its proceeds to the ACE Scholarship program. Since 2009, HELP has donated over $6,000 to ACE.

ACE is an evidence-based and award-winning program that teaches non-cognitive skills to disadvantaged students.

Their primary objective is to offer a positive vision of academic achievement and tools for success that the students’ socioeconomic backgrounds typically inhibit. Each semester a cohort of ACE students learn social and life skills in Hartnell’s three foundational courses (EDU-110, 111, and 112).

Under the guidance of ACE Director Hermalinda Rocha and HELP Community Sponsor Renee Adams-Barnes, the Leadership4Life three-day seminar has been incorporated into the ACE curriculum.

Jesse Bonderman, founder of the Cornerstone Project, has been facilitating Leadership4Life seminars at CTF for three years.

Its curriculum focuses on an individual’s “way of being” and thinking, with a strong emphasis on the power of choice and perspective framing. HELP’s Chairman envisioned the presentation of such a curriculum would significantly increase the ACE student’s chances of succeeding in college and life.

One participant agreed.

“I’ve gone through a number of programs and workshops, but this was much different,” he said. “Most seminars never really make much of a connection, but I truly feel like I can relate to this, and it is definitely the best workshop that I’ve ever been through.”

HELP could not have pulled off such a groundbreaking program without the support of HELP Community Sponsor Renee Adams-Barnes, ACE Director Hermalinda Rocha, Careering Responsible Opportunity Programs (CROP) director Eugene Dey and the CTF administration.

At the forefront, former CTF Associate Warden Bill Wilson championed the program with the administration and Warden Marion Spearman.

During the closing remarks, the ACE students personally expressed their gratitude to the Warden for allowing them to come into CTF. Several of them said they were very thankful, because they never would have had such a life-altering experience without his blessing.

HELP’s original program was designed for one three-day seminar for the newly enrolled ACE students each semester. However, due to its resounding success, HELP is currently constructing a bi-weekly follow-up program to run throughout the remainder of the semester.

HELP plans to facilitate a Leadership4Life seminar with a new group of ACE students in the spring semester.

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