The Importance of Connection
Jess Lazare’s story grabs you from the very beginning. She is truly committed to giving to our Stevens Point community. She is a JusticeWorks Board member and mentor in Volunteers in Probation.
In her past Jess struggled with addiction, and came to a point where she knew she needed and wanted to change her life. Looking for support, Jess reached out to JusticeWorks to see if she could get a mentor. Even though Jess didn’t qualify for the VIP program, she was connected with her mentor Paula. Paula’s support was pivotal in Jess’ recovery and she is still in contact with Paula today.
Jess says, “Paula was the right fit for me. Paula had the most nonjudgmental attitude with anything that I told her. It was hard to find the right person to trust with my story. If I made a bad decision she made me feel like no decision was ever wrong, we just dealt with it and moved forward.” Jess knows her life today would be completely different without Paula’s influence.
Relationships make a difference for people trying to change their lives, Jess asserts. “People struggling need support to help find solutions to the tough questions they are asking themselves. How important is sobriety, is it a priority? Can you make tough decisions to keep sober? Can you end the relationships that continue to get you into trouble or prevent your success?”
Jess believes in a positive, accepting attitude toward life’s hardships. She also says that trying your best to change your behavior may not look perfect. And that is why she is now a mentor in JusticeWorks’ VIP program. She wants to support people making a change in their life. Though some people may not be completely ready to put in the hard work to get better, any effort can help plant a seed. It may take more time for that seed to sprout and grow and for that person to succeed. Personal growth takes the right conditions. Our JusticeWorks programs are part of a bigger picture in helping people find hope.
Restorative Justice Programs Highlight
Why is our work at JusticeWorks important? For many reasons, perhaps most important is the ability to remove barriers and help people who lack access to valuable services in our community. If you have an encounter with the justice system, you may be labeled as an “offender” or “criminal” which both have clearly negative connotations. Many programs aren’t designed to help the unique issues these labels present.
If you speak with Mike Champion, who coordinates JusticeWorks’ Community and Residential Program (CRP) and Volunteers in Probation (VIP) program, you learn more about the issues that the people in these programs face. CRP works with high risk and high need individuals in the justice system prepare for their reentry into the community upon release from the prison. Volunteers in Probation matches community volunteers with individuals who’ve likely had their first encounter with the justice system, are lower risk, and less likely to reoffend when presented with more supportive choices. The CRP is a collaborative team of the Portage House, JusticeWorks, Elmergreen Associates (Alcohol & Drug Counseling), and Portage County Justice Programs.
Mike explains JusticeWorks’ main goal is to help individuals overcome barriers they need to be successful. He adds that many clients have experienced trauma including child abuse, neglect, sexual, and emotional abuse. Research tells us that individuals negative choices and an inability to move forward in life can be the result of traumatic experiences like these. Negative choices frequently include drug and alcohol abuse, gang affiliation, sexual promiscuity, and other criminal activity. For most of our program participants, prior access to supportive resources for proper healing was limited or not available at all.This is why JusticeWorks programs exist; to help people move forward from their past. And in turn, lift our community as a whole.
Mike Championknows he has made an impact when people complete the program, and stay in contact with him. “This is the power of relationships. Many former participants choose to continue the professional supportive relationship with our team, because it helps them in pursuit of success in the community,” Mike shares.
JustiveWorks strives to make a difference in our community by supporting individuals in the local justice system through programs like CRP and VIP. We will continue to do so and invite you to join us in this restorative justice journey.
Get to Know Our Board: Jan Way
Current Board Member Jan Way is an absolute delight to know. Take this opportunity to connect with Jan and learn a little more about her!
Jan is a very active community member, elected to the Town of Hull as a Supervisor, engaged in politics, and volunteering at JusticeWork’s Family Law Information Center (FLIC )as well as being on the JusticeWorks Board of Directors.
Her longtime service to JusticeWorks began when her pastor introduced her to PRISM, a group that helped incarcerated individuals when they were released to find resources to integrate them back into society. Several PRISM members were part of JusticeWorks and, after seeing Jan’s passion, encouraged her to also get involved here.
Jan has a personal connection to people struggling with mental health and addiction. She believes that people need second chances. “I’ve seen people change their lives for the better through JusticeWoks and similar programs,” she shares. Through VIP’s (Volunteers in Probation) focus on mentorship and support, she has witnessed young adults become successful after one mistake got them involved in the criminal justice system.
Jan is grateful for the many wonderful people she meets through JusticeWorks and believes it’s important we get to know each other in community. She has made relationships with people in the Courthouse, the University and within state and local government. Collaborating through these relationships helps in sharing concerns and possible solutions when dealing with problems shared by the community.
Seeing other’s pain has opened Jan’s eyes to the social justice issues facing our community. These include low level crimes like marijuana possession, gun control issues, and physical and domestic abuse. While these pains are familiar to us at JusticeWorks, we know many people are unaware of the magnitude of these issues (and more) that our neighbors face in this community.
So, why get involved in JusticeWorks programs? Jan says that people who go to jail or commit crimes will return to the community. They’re neighbors, students, and people working at stores you frequent. She believes we need to find ways for people to return to and positively contribute to our community. Only by working together, she says, can we support their transition back, and give them a chance for success.
Thanks Jan for your continued support of JusticeWorks, it is a pleasure to have you on our team.
The Benefit of Volunteering
Ellie Rathe, a recent volunteer at JusticeWorks’ Family Law Information Center (FLIC) program, was born and raised in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. She attended the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities studying Communications, Rhetorical Studies for her undergraduate degree. Initially she wanted to leave her mark on the world by becoming a social worker. Her goal was to make serious change at a systemic level for those families in need.
As her studies and experiences continued, she realized that making such change was not likely at the level of a social worker. She then decided to attend Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, MN.
Shortly after her rigorous education to become a lawyer began, the COVID-19 pandemic struck our world. Her coursework moved online, and she came back home to Stevens Point. Pushing forward despite the restrictions of our compromised world, Ellie began to search for ways to obtain legal experience in Stevens Point. Her mother Suzanne is a current Board Member for JusticeWorks, which oversees FLIC, and encouraged Ellie to take on a volunteer experience.
Ellie joined the FLIC team to obtain legal experience, provide herself with a real-life view of the legal system, and to give back to the community in need. Working with FLIC, she assisted people with filling out court forms and providing guidance as to the family law process. What she didn’t know was how valuable the experience would be to her legal future.
Ellie returned in May 2021 to Eagan, Minnesota and Mitchell Hamline. She decided to apply to the Child Protection Clinic and was chosen as one of seven students who work as Certified Student Attorneys. This clinic provides much-needed support to families by representing parents who are trying to retain custody of their child/children. Ellie says she never would have been chosen for this amazing opportunity if not for her volunteer experience at FLIC. It strengthened her resume by showing she had knowledge of the legal system beyond the classroom.
Through her experience in FLIC, she was able to help individuals move forward in the process of divorce, instead of being stuck, confused. Ellie wants people to know “FLIC is here to help you, you don’t have to be upset and alone.” She expands that her work with FLIC, and now the Child Protection Clinic, has taught her that divorce and other family law issues can make people feel very alone.
Ellie wants to practice family law post-graduation, saying she wants to help families with “everyday legal needs” from divorce to child protection to estate planning.
Thank you Ellie for volunteering with FLIC. We look forward to hearing how you make positive change happen in the future.