Through a sociology class project, Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development graduate students are assisting previously incarcerated women in Bloomington-Normal in regaining their independence and attaining a consistent income.
Through a partnership with Labyrinth Outreach Services, organized by Illinois State Professor Joan Brehm and supported by a Pohlmann Family Development grant, students have been researching issues relating to previously incarcerated women in the community. Caroline Moe, a Peace Corps Master’s International student, maintains that the project is a step in the right direction for this underserved portion of the community.
“Unfortunately, there is significant income inequality and lack of opportunity for those living below the poverty line,” Moe said. “In McLean County, 14.2 percent of the population live below this line, including many of the women Labyrinth serves. This partnership provides an opportunity for us to gain real-world experience in community development as well as feeling like we are actually accomplishing something.”
The 18 students formed two groups: a microbusiness research team and an employment hiring practices team. Despite their grueling school schedules, both teams worked hard to bring hope for these struggling women.
“This project has been a great insight into the collaboration involved in executing community development projects,” said Peace Corps Master’s International student Jessie Linder. “We’ve gotten to network and collaborate with members in many different sectors of the community and gotten to see firsthand how exciting a project can be when you get community members involved. I’ve found that it isn’t nearly as important to have the answer, as it is to figure out what the community’s answer is.”
Some students, like Peace Corps Fellow Nick Canfield, have never experienced formal community development research. Thanks to this all-encompassing project, students like Canfield have been able to broaden their knowledge base in order to serve others.
“Although I had done community development programs during my Peace Corps experience in Pohnpei, Micronesia, I had not worked integrally with a large group toward presenting important and meaningful research to organizations,” Canfield said. “This project is directly geared towards creating methods to answer big questions which have real-world implications, and it has greatly improved my knowledge of research methods, project implementation, and community development.”
The students have been seeking donations to raise $5,000 so that Labyrinth can launch a social enterprise, the Clean Slate Project. The goal of the Clean Slate Project is to empower the women to make positive changes in their lives while gaining valuable professional skills in preparation for transitioning into the workforce. Individuals interested in making a donation should contact Linder.
Linder, Moe, and Applied Community and Economic Development Fellow Mel Johnston-Gross are project coordinators for this outreach effort. “To begin this portion of the project, we had to look at the starting group and the feasibility of this actually working,” Moe said. “This has proven to be very difficult, but we know it will be worth it in the end. Sometimes, it really is the little things like finishing a request for donation letter that really makes us feel good about our work, even when we are feeling overwhelmed.”
“I hope the findings will help them to better assist formerly incarcerated women to successfully re-enter society,” Canfield said.
Learn more about graduate study with the Stevenson Center.