By Alexandra Powell, CDCR Public Information Officer
Therese Giannelli, Community Resources Manager (CRM) at California State Prison-Sacramento (SAC), was named the 2016 Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) Volunteer of the Year for her outstanding work in support of Special Olympics athletes and the Special Olympics community. With the 2017 Sacramento LETR approaching on June 23, Giannelli sat down with InsideCDCR to discuss volunteer work, rehabilitation and life as a CRM.
(Editor’s note: The Sacramento leg of the Special Olympics Northern California Law Enforcement Torch Run will begin at Beal’s Point at 5:30 a.m. on June 23 and will end that afternoon at the State Capitol. The Opening Ceremonies to the Summer Games will begin at 7 p.m., June 23, at University of California, Davis. The ceremony is open to the public. Read more stories about CDCR’s involvement with Special Olympics, http://www.insidecdcr.ca.gov/category/special-olympics/)
Prior to working at SAC, you were working in Internal Affairs, which is quite different from the work you do now. How did you transition to being a CRM?
I didn’t even know this position existed. When I was working in Internal Affairs, my Associate Warden called me up one day and said, “Therese, I’d like you to interview for this position. I think you’d be great.” She sent me the duty statement and it was like reading my dream job. It was exactly what I wanted to be doing.
Why did you become involved with the Special Olympics?
One of the reasons I got involved with Special Olympics is I was an athlete as a kid. I was blessed with people that always encouraged me. But I never had to experience the disabilities that Special Olympics athletes have. And if anyone gets the opportunity of seeing one of these athletes run across the finish line whether they’re first or last, it will change their life. The reaction… you cannot help but fall in love with a program that creates that type of joy in any human. When you see these individuals, oh my gosh, it’s like eating ice cream.
What are some of your and SAC’s noteworthy contributions to Special Olympics and the LETR?
I have assisted prisons in Arizona and Alaska to provide blueprints of successful fundraisers and ideas to grow their programs (even if we are not able to do some of them here at SAC based on our security level, mission and populations). I’ve also assisted and supported other CDCR institutions and their fundraising efforts. Our Special Olympics fundraising here at SAC has gone from $246 per year (before I came on board in 2015) to us now being the fourth highest in the department and continuing to grow. SAC was the top law enforcement fundraiser in the 2017 Sacramento Polar Plunge and we were only $300 away from winning it in 2016 as well. We developed a RED TEE Shirt for the staff to purchase so they could not only support Special Olympics but Remember Everyone Deployed, RED. With this fundraiser, both charities benefited from the staff support, and in addition the staff were able to show their support to both as a part of their uniform.
The torch run in 2016 was our first year (participating) and this year our team has doubled in size. We are in the process of continuing to solicit donations for this event.
How do inmates contribute to the cause?
Since I have been the CRM, SAC has averaged about $12,000 to $15,000 a year in Special Olympics donations with about $7,000 to $8,000 of that contributed by inmate fundraising. The inmates participate in food sales and they also donate some of their own money directly toward the cause.
What was your volunteer background prior to coming to CDCR?
I have a background in criminal justice and I also have a background in social services. Those two things combined make for a real nice blend here as a CRM. I started out doing volunteerism literally in high school when I started my own charity called Hats for Heroes, which provided baseball caps for veterans. I’ve been heavily involved with Susan G. Komen Runs and Special Olympics for the past 13 years.
You’ve been a CRM for just over two years. How has your job evolved since taking the position in 2015?
When I started at SAC we had nine programs and about 135 volunteers. We currently have 109-plus programs and over 500 volunteers.
What would you say to someone who is considering a career as a CRM?
You can’t do this job as a job. To be a CRM, it has to be something that you’re passionate about. It’s just not something you can fake your way through. These things just don’t happen unless somebody cares. I mean you can run a program and it will run, but it’d have to have passion behind it to be truly successful. I’m very, very passionate about my programs. I don’t really take time off.
What would you say to those who think rehabilitative programs are a waste of time?
Nothing is a waste of time. If inmates are doing a program that they have to study for, or do interviews where they are forced to look deep inside their soul and into the darkest things that have made them who they are… all of those things, from the largest to the smallest, keep their mind and energy occupied so that they’re not harming staff. And hopefully it will see change in them and they’ll work toward rehabilitating and becoming a better person, for themselves, for their families, for their neighbors, so that when they get out they can be a productive part of society.
What is your biggest challenge as a CRM?
There are not enough hours in the day.