Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

With `Friends' like These. (Cleveland)

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

With `Friends' like These. (Cleveland)

Article excerpt

Women's Re-entry Network in Cleveland is like many nonprofits--it is financially pinched and has a big-hearted but overworked staff that struggles to meet the needs of its clients. Founded in 1994 and sponsored by Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, WREN provides a web of services--psychological counseling, case management, legal assistance, GED preparation, job coaching, and more--to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their families. The women are usually poor, drug addicted, undereducated, and the victims of lifelong domestic and sexual abuse. Foundations have been generous, but the dollars are never quite enough.

Fortunately, WREN has creative allies. Three Catholic sisters have formed a support organization called Friends of WREN, which has drawn more than 50 regular volunteers to bolster WREN's efforts on behalf of incarcerated women. Friends of WREN functions like a bionic body-suit for the nonprofit: It fits itself neatly around the nonprofit's mission and adds dozens of eyes, arms, and legs to work on needs that WREN itself lacks the time, staff, and resources to address.

Several years ago a chaplain doing outreach work with prisoners invited Beverly Anne LoGrasso to experience what it was like behind the clanging bars of Cleveland's county jail. Once inside the jail, LoGrasso--social justice coordinator for the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland--paused to sit with one of the female inmates. "I was hooked," LoGrasso recalls. "She was so lonely and desperate. I thought that if these women needed someone to sit, talk, and pray with them, I could do that."

As LoGrasso started spending more time with the women at the jail, she began to think beyond their immediate needs. She knew that after they were released they would need housing that was "clean, safe, and sober"--and realized that very few had such accommodations waiting. She soon discovered WREN, as well as two other Catholic sisters--Libby Shaefer, a Dominican, and Donna Hawk, from the Community of St. Joseph--who were also concerned with the needs of incarcerated women. The three met with Emily Edwards, founder and director of WREN, who told them that housing had always been one of the nonprofit's goals but that the group never had the resources to go after it. …

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