Since 1985, the Gemeinschaft Home has served men coming out of incarceration in Virginia. It provides a safe place where up to 47 men can transition back into a community setting at a slower pace. As part of the residential program, individuals have a minimum of 90 days where they have mandatory counseling and are required to actively seek and maintain employment.
For resident Hunter Tolley, Gemeinschaft adds structure, which he didn’t have before in his life. He arrived at the home April 5, after spending the last three years in prison for four DUIs.
“A place like this — mainly we’re trying to better ourselves,” Tolley said. “Most people have a misconception that we’re a bunch of alcoholics and addicts. It’s not that the people in here aren’t any good. All the guys I met so far have been really good guys who help each other out in any way we can.”
His goals include saving up money that he can fall back on once his time at the home is finished. He’s been participating in community service as part of his stay and participating in group therapy sessions with other residents.
There are seven other mens’ homes in the state that provide similar services. Gemeinschaft is the only program that offers case management for each individual and has programming that encourages the men to work at various places around the community during their stay.
“I encourage the community to come see what we’re about,” Sharon Ringgold, executive director of Gemeinschaft, said. “Understand that the men and women that come through the program are just like everyone else — because they have a criminal background doesn’t mean that’s who they are. It doesn’t define their character. It just means that there was a time in their life when something wasn’t just right.”
When Ringgold arrived 10 years ago, the program was the same for everyone. Now, they try to approach each person and meet them at what their needs are.
“We help them navigate going home, what that may look like, finding apartments, getting them connected to areas that they will transition back into,” Ringgold said. “They can be in prison for the same reason, but their individual needs can be very different.”
The Gemeinschaft Home is regulated through the Department of Corrections and is only for non-violent, non-sexual offenders. Four years ago, they created a daily reporting center for Harrisonburg and Rockingham residents. This is an alternative for individuals who have been charged, but not convicted of a crime. Instead of waiting in jail, individuals can sustain employment and childcare by checking in through the facility and receive counseling intervention.
Dave Goditt came to Gemeinschaft after being put on a daily reporting program by his probation officer. He was having trouble finding stable housing by himself.
“I checked myself into Gemeinschaft because I was out of options — I was spiraling out of control,” Goditt said. “My main goal is to get my daughter back. I’m used to just being out and blowing around in the wind and not having anything to hold onto. When I checked into here, it’s stability I had.”
Without Gemeinschaft, Goditt admits he wouldn’t be in a healthy place. Most likely, he’d be “back in jail, homeless or on the run.” Structure is what he needed in his life, and Gemeinschaft provides that for him.
“Sharon [Ringgold] says you’re going to have a place tonight and a place to sleep tomorrow,” Goditt said. “We’re going to help you find a job and save up some money.”
Gemeinschaft just launched its 2020 vision campaign, where it hopes to raise $220,000 within 20 months. Once it reaches this goal, it plans on creating a workout facility, having a licensed social worker or therapist on property, opening a women’s home and creating a therapy garden.
Ringgold said individuals have come through the home have opened up successful businesses, gotten married and bought houses. A few individuals have even come back to work for Gemeinschaft.
“When you see someone who, for the majority of their life, hasn’t had someone to believe in them, and you can give them a glimpse of that and watch them grow is awesome,” Ringgold said.
Contact Matthew Sasser at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.