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Mary rebuilds her life in St. Cloud area with help from Rise's Re-Entry project

When Mary moved back in 2007 to her hometown of St. Cloud after a 12-year incarceration in a Florida women’s federal penitentiary, she was filled with both excitement and concern. Where would she live? Would she be able to find a good job to support herself? Could she and her two children and extended family members reconnect?

The past seven years have certainly been challenging, but Mary’s sheer strength and determination to rebuild her life have given her the motivation to move forward. 

Mary is receiving guidance and support from Service Team Leader Henry Smith through the Re-Entry project, a component of Rise’s Central Minnesota Works program.

Mary was referred by staff at the Central Minnesota Re-Entry Project (CMNRP), a nonprofit which helps connect ex-offenders with local employers, landlords, social service agencies, and mentors. Headed by Project Director Patrick Bednarz, CMNRP works with other community partners like Rise to offer these critical support services.

“Although I had been able to find some temporary production and customer service jobs on my own -- even getting promoted in one of them – I felt like I was only working for a paycheck,” said Mary. “I also needed health benefits and wanted to start preparing for retirement. 

“Meeting Henry last February was a godsend. He has given me so much help and really boosted my self-confidence so that I could get back out there and find what would really make me happy.”

After a three-month temporary position, Mary was hired fulltime as a general maintenance worker by St. Cloud State University (SCSU). She works as part of a four-person team and enjoys her work. 

“Mary is one of the most determined people I know,” said Henry, “and it has been a joy to work with her. We met once a week and together updated her resume and launched another job search. I was impressed with her motivation – she never missed an appointment, she never gave up. We still meet periodically to address any issues that may come up.”

“It may not be my ‘dream job,’ but looking at the big picture, it’s a really good job,” Mary noted. “I have the potential to find other employment within the state system down the road, if I choose to. My supervisors have been really supportive and complimentary of my work, and I am very happy with it.”

Mary had lived with both her sister and her son, but dreamed of having her own place to live. With assistance from Rise’s Housing Support Specialist Lea Recknor, Mary moved into a quiet, comfortable apartment where she enjoys caring for her African violets and restoring furniture. Lea also helped her qualify for a one-year HUD rental subsidy which has enabled Mary to catch up on some bills and student loans, and stay current on her expenses.

Despite the long time she was separated from her two children and siblings, Mary appreciates the love and support they have demonstrated throughout the years. 

“Given the situation, they did all they could for me,” said Mary. “My daughter recently told me that I was the strongest, most determined lady she knew. That meant the world to me.”

Mary would eventually like to take some college courses to update her work and computer skills. 

“I’m so thankful for everything Lea, Henry, and others have done to help me,” said Mary. “I’m not sure how, but I want to show my appreciation by helping others.”
 
The Re-Entry project was originally funded for one year by a local family foundation. This year, the Otto Bremer Foundation funded the program for two years, contributing $75,000 each year for job placement, support, and housing 
services.